Motor City Shifts Into Top Gear in First Champs Appearance, Headed for the Postseason

The Motor City Hit Dogs enter bracket play undefeated in the team’s first Champs, with a stellar defense and a now-budding offense to match.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Motor City Hit Dogs clinched a spot in the postseason bracket at 15U Champs NC after a dominant 11-0 victory over Alpha Prime. Undefeated at 2-0-1 and featuring an offense that has scored 18 runs over the last seven innings of play, the Hit Dogs are hitting their stride at exactly the right time in Cary, North Carolina.

For Motor City, skipper Tony Leonard, and a host of talented young players, this week has been something new: the team’s debut National Team Championships experience. One of three teams competing for the first at the USA Baseball National Training Complex over a four-day span, the Hit Dogs are battling against an expanded field of 20 of the best squads in the country.

“It’s been great. We play like we're used to being in an environment with a lot of good teams around, though it’s definitely a little bit different since everyone here is really talented,” Motor City pitcher Peyton Price said. “You have to come out here with your ‘A’ game every single time. If you come out flat, teams here will take advantage of that and the scoreboard will reflect it.”

The scoreboard wasn’t exactly kind to the Hit Dogs in the squad’s Monday morning opener against Texas Twelve Red Sox. Motor City began its Champs experience with three hits in the opening five innings, entering the sixth and final inning of the game trailing 1-0. But catcher Broder Katke lit a fuse under his team offensively with a leadoff double before Price entered to pinch run and advanced to third on a single from Graham Keen. Price scored the game-tying run on a sacrifice fly from Brody Brannon, though that would be the final run of the game as the time limit would be reached with the score at 1-1.

Motor City’s second game, against South Charlotte Panthers Marucci, featured the same script - although this time, it was flipped. The Hit Dogs entered the bottom of the seventh inning holding a 2-0 lead thanks to a Dominic Bonnetti single that scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning, three outs from the team’s first win of the week. But two South Charlotte runs scored on a Connor Scheich single suddenly raised the prospect of another tie.

This time, however, there would be extra innings. It was an opportunity that Motor City wouldn’t let slip past them. RBI singles from each of Bonnetti, Josh Leonard, and Peyton Coldicott plus a bases-loaded walk plated five huge runs for the Hit Dogs. Carson Liedel secured the win with a stellar eighth inning, striking out the first two batters he faced before forcing a groundout to end the game. The Hit Dogs now had that first Champs win.

“I think we really just dug deep in the top of the eighth frame. We kept remembering that our backs were against the wall,” Broder reflected on Tuesday afternoon. “You get out what you put in. We worked really hard in the offseason, all the guys as a team. It showed deep in that game when other guys were just gassed.”

Now having picked up a win and shown what the team could do both offensively and defensively, Motor City played its best game by far on Tuesday against Alpha Prime. Price was dominant on the mound, going the first five innings and collecting the win. Just one Alpha Prime batter reached the basepaths, on a double in the bottom of the fifth. Price struck another two out during his shift.

“I was just trying to fill the zone up. It's obviously a lot easier knowing my defense is going to be behind me making plays,” Price said postgame. “But then I also trust Broder [Katke] behind the plate and what he's calling even if I have a different thought process. Honestly, I trust my guys, and they gave me run support today with eleven runs. It's easy going out there to pitch with confidence.”

Katke echoed Price after Tuesday’s win, praising the team’s mentality as a whole after clinching a spot in bracket play.

“We've really picked it up. Our team motto has been that our backs are against the wall. You have to show out and we have done that. We had to win the pool today and we went and did it. So it's been good. We're going to be rolling into bracket play tomorrow, so we're looking forward to it.”

Along with Price’s performance on the mound, the key in the win over Alpha Prime was an offense that never lost a step after putting up five runs in extra innings against South Charlotte. After plating three runs in the opening four innings on Tuesday, Motor City’s bats exploded for eight runs across the fifth and sixth innings.

Leonard led off with an RBI groundout, followed by Katke on an RBI single and a score on a dropped third strike. Carrying a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning, the real fireworks began with another Katke single and an error to make it 5-0. An RBI double from Keen and a sac fly handed Motor City a 7-0 advantage.

Katke’s third RBI, a sacrifice fly from Keen, a bases-loaded walk, and a final RBI single from Liedel completed the rout for the Hit Dogs in the sixth and final inning.

“Coach Tony [Leonard] preaches just to put the ball in play. Situational hitting has been huge this tournament for us,” Price said. “We struggled the first game, but we did what we needed to do in the last game by putting up a good amount of runs. The boys were finding the barrel today and we executed everything well.”

Now at 2-0-1, the next stage for Motor City is to continue to execute everything well in bracket play, which begins on Wednesday, July 10th. While the offense has now evolved into something formidable over the course of the team’s first-ever Champs appearance, the defense is what has the Hit Dogs ready to take on all competitors for hardware. Leonard’s crew has allowed just three runs in three games, the lowest mark of any team so far this week.

“Our pitching has been phenomenal. Coach Tony [Leonard] always tells us that defense wins big games. That's exactly what we've done,” Broder said. “Peyton [Price] was a perfect example of that today. They had one hit in the fifth inning, which was his last inning, so he was perfect. It’s a lot easier to hit when I know he can keep the game within reach. And that's exactly what he did.”

Broder also hinted that Motor City has a lot more in store as the team gears up for its Champs postseason experience.

“We have a lot of arms ready to go. Peyton [Price] is going to come back. We got two or three of our studs ready to go. So whoever's in our way, they're gonna have a tough time. And we know the challenge ahead. But, I mean, we're excited. We're ready to face it.”

Katke, Price, and the rest of the Hit Dogs have the chance to show just how ready on Wednesday.