Even before the first pitch on Thursday, Bulls coaches were well aware of the one-man wrecking crew in the Raptors' dugout.
As Raptors slugger Austin Downing made his way to the field at Youth Sports Inc., a Bulls coach said to him, "Take it easy on us today."
But Downing did nothing of the sort, leading the Raptors to a 6-3 victory over the Bulls in the first game of U8 DCABA National League tournament.
After a scoreless first inning for the Bulls, the Raptors posted the first runs of the game. Raptor Kyler Elston got things started with a one-out triple and scored on a Matt Hill single. Downing stepped to the plate next and blasted a two-run home run down the right field line to put the Raptors up 3-0.
The two teams reversed roles in the second inning as the Bulls did the scoring. Parker King drove in Cooper Moreano with a single to right field for the Bulls' lone run of the inning. The Raptors kept the Bulls from adding onto that run, though, getting two straight force-outs at second base to end the inning.
"Defense all the way," Raptors coach Jack Tyler said, referring to what ultimately led to his team's victory. "We had some timely hitting, but mainly just defense. That's the key to our team."
Defense prevailed for both teams in the third inning and the score held at 3-1 in the Raptors' favor. Both teams sent only four batters to the plate in the inning.
The Raptors overcame three Bull hits in the fourth to get out of the inning unscathed. When the Raptors returned to the dugout to bat in the bottom of the inning, Downing loomed in the on-deck circle.
Hill set the table for Downing with a leadoff single and he responded with his second two-run home run of the game. The round-tripper accounted for the Raptors' only runs of the inning and extended their lead to 5-1.
"That guy can flatout stroke the ball," Tyler said of Downing. "He is a great kid and a great hitter."
The fifth inning was a replica of the third, but the Bulls staged a comeback in the sixth.
James Lynch was the third batter of the inning for the Bulls and singled to advance Max Easter to second base. Easter scored the first run of the inning on a Ryan Glogau single. The next batter, Michael Braman, grounded out, but allowed Lynch time to score. When the inning was over, the Bulls found themselves down 5-3 and one big inning from taking the lead.
Behind the bat of Downing, the Raptors added one more insurance run in the inning. Downing came up with two men on and loaded the bases with an infield single. Seth Quick came up next and plated Elston for the Raptors' sixth and final run of the game.
The Raptors held off the Bulls in the seventh to preserve the victory and advance to the next round of the tournament.
"They've got to win two games to win the championship and they're up for it," Tyler said. "They're pretty hyped about it for 7 and 8."
*After the game, a Raptors coach handed out awards. Gage Works was recognized for his persistent play, Hill was given the Golden Glove award and the Big Hitter award was given to Downing.
*Having driven in four runs, Downing said he wasn't surprised that he won the award and it felt good to be recognized for his performance.
*The Raptors beat the Kings, 15-12, for the U8 DCABA National League championship title.