MINNEAPOLIS -- For much of this season, Rays RBI Tampa relied on Dontavious Johnson on the mound, but hadn't necessarily needed his bat. On Friday, with his team in need of an offensive spark, Johnson came through in a big way at the plate and propelled a late rally as
MINNEAPOLIS -- For much of this season, Rays RBI Tampa relied on Dontavious Johnson on the mound, but hadn't necessarily needed his bat. On Friday, with his team in need of an offensive spark, Johnson came through in a big way at the plate and propelled a late rally as he and the Rays made program history.
Johnson's run-scoring triple in the bottom of the sixth set off a five-run outburst that helped Tampa top Philadelphia, 5-3, in dramatic fashion to win the Junior division title of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series at Siebert Field on the University of Minnesota campus.
While Tampa's program had found success at the RBI World Series in the past -- its senior squad won the title in 2001 -- '18 marked the first time its junior team (ages 13-15) had ever qualified for the tournament. After losing its opening game on Monday, Tampa bounced back and won five games in a row to finish off its title run.
"We never got down on ourselves," Johnson, who was named Championship Game MVP, said. "I've been playing with lots of these guys since I was little and we always knew we could do it."
Phillies RBI gradually built up a 3-0 lead over the first five innings and appeared to have control of the game as they ran wild on the bases. Cameron Simms scored on a double-steal for Philadelphia in the third inning to push its lead to 2-0. Then, Phillies RBI executed another double-steal in the fifth to set up Devon Koger's RBI groundout and make it 3-0.
To that point, Philadelphia starter Steven Shaffer had been lights-out, allowing just one hit over the first five innings.
"I think we just had to straighten up [Shaffer's] breaking ball a little bit and start putting the ball in play," Tampa head coach Mark Whiten said. "I felt like if he was throwing that good, it was gonna be a long game. But we just kept plugging away."
In the sixth, Douglas Thompson drilled a leadoff single, and Johnson followed by crushing a triple to deep left field that gave Tampa its first run of the game.
"Just when it started, man, the energy level went way up," Whiten said. "That's huge with these kids. They started having fun again. It wasn't fun for, like, four innings."
De'Mario Williams then drew a walk and stole second, and Trenton Bullen followed with another walk to load the bases.
Tyson Sutton drilled a sharp grounder to third that forced a Philadelphia throwing error at the plate, and Tampa cut its deficit to 3-2. Solomon Grayson then tied the game on a sacrifice fly, and Trarell Howard later came home on a wild pitch to score the go-ahead run.
Tre'Quan Davis crushed a run-scoring double that pushed Tampa's lead to 5-3 and completed the comeback.
Phillies RBI, which won the Junior division championship last season, finished the tournament 4-2. Much of last year's title-winning roster graduated to Philadelphia's Senior squad, and the Junior Phillies RBI team featured just three players who had played in the tournament last season.
"With a team this young, guys who are still early in their careers, it's hard to step up in that last inning knowing that you need two runs," Philadelphia head coach Devon Buchanan said. "I tip my hat to the Rays. They did what they needed to do."
For Tampa, the biggest dilemma is now deciding where the championship trophy will reside.
"I haven't decided that yet," Whiten laughed. "I might take it home for a little while and then pass it around -- maybe."
** Jarrid Denney ** is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis.