Manager Matt Frey wanted his Clifton Park team to play like it had when it earned its way into the Babe Ruth 13-year-old World Series.
The Bulldogs, who got an automatic spot in the 10-team tournament, showed they belong by opening play on Friday with a dramatic 4-3 win over Eagle Pass, Texas.
“I would never tell them this, but I would have been happy with two wins,” said Frey, who played for Clifton Park’s team that played in the 1999 Bambino World Series, the club’s first team to advance to this level. “But our goal is to win this. We just beat a team that was the talk of the tournament, coming into the tournament.”
The Bulldogs rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh as leadoff hitter Zack Sargent’s perfect sacrifice bunt put two teammates in scoring position before Richard Drum singled in the tying run. Catcher Brendan Calistri beat the throw on a would-be double play as Luke Williams raced home with the go-ahead run.
“I was thinking of diving,” said Calistri of his effort down the first-base line. “I’ve done it before.”
Calistri came up big in the bottom of the seventh, ending the game by throwing out Erykk Fuentes as the pinch-runner was trying to steal second base.
“I was surprised he was going,” said Calistri, whose throw ended a day of four games, the final three all decided by a run. Included was Guilderland’s 2-1 loss to Jasper, Indiana.
Frey was most pleased at the way his team rallied after falling behind on three different occasions.
“That’s the thing I love most about this group. They never give up,” said Frey. “Richard Drum hadn’t had his best game, but he put that behind him and came up with a big hit.
“We’ve done it before — a lot of times. We know we have a chance.”
Eagle Pass took leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before the Bulldogs pulled off their latest escape act.
Frankie Pizzo lead off by drawing a five-pitch walk, and Williams laid down a bunt between the mound and the plate, beating the throw to first.
Sargent moved the runners up, and Drum singled to left to score Pizzo and chase Eagle Pass starter Jesus Fraga. Calistri fell behind, 2-0, worked the count to 2-2 against Ricardo Gonzalez, then hit a medium-speed bouncer to second.
Eagle Pass got the force out at second, but Calistri hustled to beat the relay from shortstop Olexis Gutierrez.
“We never got down,” said Sargent. “We knew we could do it, because we’ve won games like this before.”
Knuckleballing 5-foot-4 Greg Waldek went the first four innings for Clifton Park, before Frey went to 6-foot-2, 175-pound Matt Alverson to start the fifth.
The Texans scored a run in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead, but Alverson got a strikeout and ground out to leaves the bases full.
“The big guys comes in and throws about 75 after Greg was throwing about 50,” said Calistri, pointing out the difficulty opponents have adjusting to the contrast.
“Once I decided to start Greg, I was going to bring in Alverson,” said Frey. “I’ll probably flip-flop them next time.”
The Bulldogs play again tonight at 7:30, meeting Grand Forks, N.D., which dropped a wild 17-14 decision after giving up 10 runs in the first inning to Cranston, R.I., in the tourney opener.
“We wanted to change the attitude,” said Frey. “It seems like Clifton Park and Shenendehowa teams don’t handle adversity too well. To have them come back and win like this, their confidence is going to be high.
“But if we come follow this win with three losses, I won’t be happy.”
Guilderland, the Eastern New York champion, gave up single runs in the first two innings, cut the lead in half in the top of the third, but couldn’t push another run across against Craig Shepherd, who had s complete game five-hitter.
“The Jasper kids play the same style as us,” said Guilderland manager Brian Grabek. “They’re very sound fundamentally. Their pitcher never broke. He got outs when he needed to.”
Alex Versanyi gave up just six hits in going the distance for Guilderland, which plays Glen Allen, Va., today at 5. Glen Allen scored three runs in the home sixth to edge Atlantic Shore, N.J., in the other first-round game.
Clifton Park 101 100 2 — 4 6 1
Eagle Pass, Texas 101 010 0 — 3 7 5
Waldek, Alverson (5) and Calistri; Fraga, Gonzalez (7) and Lopez.
Guilderland 001 000 0 — 1 5 0
Jasper, Ind. 110 000 x — 2 6 1
Varsanyi and Curry; Shepherd and Krueger.
Cranton, R.I. (10)23 011 0 — 17 17 3
Grand Forks, N.D. 3 01 341 2 — 14 14 5
Atlantic Shore, N.J. 110 000 0 — 2 5 2
Glen Allen, Va. 000 003 x — 3 6 1