The prize carrot was dangling right before Dan Leck's eyes Friday night in Nevada's State Babe Ruth Tournament championship game at Governor's Field.
It must have been so tempting to bite because there was no tomorrow as far as the tournament was concerned. But even with a championship and trip on to the Babe Ruth 15-year-old regionals on the line, Leck and his coaching staff didn't flinch.
Maybe it was the experience of having watched these same kids win state Babe Ruth 13- and 14-year-old state titles the last two years. Maybe it was sheer patience. Whatever, it paid off because Carson rallied to pull out a 10-6 victory against Fallon to wrap up that championship and earn a ticket to El Segundo, Calif., for the Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament.
Carson plays its regional opener against West Valley, Utah on Friday at 4 p.m. at Stevenson Field in El Segundo Ñ but only after getting past some anxious moments on Friday night.
Carson trailed 6-5 in the fifth inning against Fallon in the championship game. Fallon's ace pitcher, Chad Fiske, was on the mound and throwing well. Carson had its own ace, Scott DeFriez, was at first base but ready to come on and pitch at any time.
It would have been a logical move for some managers in the same situation. DeFriez had pitched 10 scoreless innings to win two games in the tournament -- a seven-inning complete game shutout against Sparks on Tuesday and the first three innings to win the opener of Friday's doubleheader against Fallon.
According to Babe Ruth tournament rules, which allow for seven innings every two games, he was eligible to throw four more.
Leck passed on the temptation, however. Eric Melendez was on the mound to start, then Mike Handley came on in relief to stop Fallon's third inning rally. Handley pitched a scoreless fourth. Then, after Carson scored five times in the top of the fifth to take a 10-6 lead, Handley came back out to pitch in the bottom half of the inning.
At that time, some Carson fans began to ask the question -- where was DeFriez?
The Carson coaching staff obviously wanted to beat Fallon and win that championship, but at the same time, they never lost sight of the big picture.
Part of that big picture was the regional tournament. For one thing, to overwork DeFriez would run the risk of leaving him tired for the coming week. For another, Carson needs to have more than one pitcher if it wants to be successful at the regional level.
"We could have gone with Scotty two innings earlier. The kids feel real confident with Scotty, but the position was, we want them to feel confident with these other kids," Leck said. "We wanted to let these other kids feel that pressure because they're certainly going to feel it when they go to El Segundo. They're going to be in real tight ball games every game down there."
As it turned out, Handley pitched a scoreless fifth, but then hit the first two batters he faced to open the sixth. In came DeFriez, and the 15-year-old right-hander worked out of the jam with two strikeouts and one base runner thrown out trying to steal. DeFriez came back in the bottom of the seventh and struck out the side to close out the win.
Leck's confidence in Carson's team never wavered, even when it dropped into the tournament losers bracket with a 5-3 loss to Fallon on Wednesday. It was the first state tournament loss in three years for this group.
"You never like to lose a game, but there are some losses you can use to refocus yourself, and I think this was one of those," Leck said. "I also think that loss in the state tournament is going to help give the kids focus better for El Segundo. There's a realization now that if they are not prepared to play ball, they will come home real quick."
Leck's confidence never wavered even when Fallon jumped out to leads of 3-0 and 6-5 in Friday night's final.
"The kids really stepped up and played well," he said. "When they went up 3-0, I wasn't too concerned because I knew we were going to hit the ball."
Just keep trying and good things are bound to happen.
You see, there is always a tomorrow.
Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal