- Matt Remsberg, ESPNHS
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LOS ANGELES -- With one sharp single to left field, Brian Goodwin erased eight miserable innings from the collective memory of his East teammates at the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Game held here Aug. 9. And with one enthusiastic pop-up slide followed by a two-handed Tiger Woods-style fist pump, Richie Shaffer released all the tension that had built up among the East players over that time.
After being shut out and one-hit through the game's first eight innings, Goodwin's hit was the East's third of the ninth inning. His single knocked in a pair of runs, the second and third of the inning after the first scored on a wild pitch.
Goodwin went on to steal third and score on an error to bring the East's run total to four. And when the West went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the East was left to celebrate a 4-2 victory on the field at Dodger Stadium — a feat that seemed unthinkable just 15 minutes earlier.
"I was just hoping to get up there and not blow it," said Goodwin, an outfielder from Rocky Mount (Rocky Mount, N.C.), with a laugh. "I didn't know if the second run was going to score, but once I saw him cross the plate, I knew we were money. We weren't gonna give the lead back up."
Shaffer, a third baseman from Providence (Charlotte, N.C.), scored easily and was mobbed by his East teammates, who couldn't help but charge out of the dugout to celebrate. It was hard to blame them, however, considering West pitchers had set down 18 of the last 20 batters entering the ninth, including 12 in a row from the third through the sixth.
But things started to turn around when East star Donavan Tate of Cartersville (Cartersville, Ga.) walked to the plate to lead off the ninth. Tate fouled off five pitches from West southpaw Slade Heathcott of Texas High (Texarkana, Texas) before beating out an infield single to shortstop on the 11th pitch of the at-bat.
"When I was in the outfield in the bottom of the eighth, I kept thinking about when I led off for my high school team during the playoffs," Tate said. "I just tried to get into that leadoff mentality of battling and fighting to get on base any way I could."
After Tate's single, Heathcott recorded two outfield fly outs sandwiched around an infield single by Michael Zunino of Mariner (Cape Coral, Fla.) to leave runners at first and second with two outs. Shaffer then walked to load the bases and bring Goodwin to the plate. A wild pitch brought Tate home from third and moved Zunino and Shaffer into scoring position before Goodwin brought them both home.
Goodwin's heroics made him an easy pick to earn MVP honors, the second year in a row a player from the East stole the award from a West counterpart with some ninth inning heroics. Tim Beckham, who went on to be the No. 1 overall selection of the 2008 MLB Draft, earned MVP honors last year after supplying the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
Heathcott likely would have picked up the MVP for the West if he'd been able to close out the victory in the ninth. In addition to the potential save, Heathcott drove in the West's first run with a single in the first inning.
Another possible MVP candidate for the West was right-handed pitcher Jacob Turner of Westminster Christian (St. Louis, Mo.), who pitched the first two innings and struck out five batters. That tied him for the most strikeouts by a single pitcher in Aflac All-American Game history, and set the tone for what would be a difficult afternoon for East hitters.
Top prospects Matthew Purke of Klein (Spring, Texas) and Tyler Matzek of Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo, Calif.) each fanned two in their inning of work. West pitchers struck out 12 overall, and allowed only a second-inning single to Goodwin before the East's ninth-inning outburst.
"All respect to the pitchers," said East shortstop/pitcher Mychal Givens of Plant (Tampa, Fla.). "Good pitching always beats good hitting, and that meant the hitters were in trouble today."
Overshadowed all afternoon, the East pitchers weren't too shabby themselves. The staff struck out 14 batters in all, with two punch outs apiece going to Zack Wheeler of East Paulding (Dallas, Ga.), Keyvius Sampson of Ocala Forest (Ocala, Fla.), Chris Jenkins of Westfield (Westfield, N.J.), Daniel Tuttle of Randleman (Randleman, N.C.), Ethan Carter of Menchville (Newport News, Va.) and Austin Maddox of Eagle's View (Jacksonville, Fla.).
Maddox earned the win after coming into the game with two outs in the eighth inning. At the time, East coach Todd Fitz-Gerald of American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) was just making sure Maddox got to face at least one batter. But no one in the East dugout was upset when he had to go out and get three more outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Davidson claims Derby title
Yucaipa (Yucaipa, Calif.) third baseman Matt Davidson knocked three home runs out of Dodger Stadium to win the Aflac All-American Game Home Run Derby title prior to the start of Saturday's game. Davidson reached nine outs in the competition with just one long ball, but then hit two homers before recording his final out.
Davidson hit seven home runs as a junior for Yucaipa, so his power display wasn't that surprising. But considering his mindset entering the preliminary round on Friday, it was a bit of a shock to see Davidson hoisting the Home Run Derby trophy on Saturday.
"I actually didn't want to qualify for the finals, because I didn't want to have to get tired out competing in the finals before the game," Davidson said. "This game is so important, so I wanted to be totally fresh. But then I got going during the prelims and the competitive juices started flowing."
Davidson's play during the game didn't suffer despite his extra pre-game work, as he went 1-for-3 with an RBI double in the fourth inning. The loss to the East clearly put a damper on Davidson's day, but didn't overshadow his enjoyment of the week.
"I'm sick to my stomach about the loss," Davidson said. "But this was still the best week of my life. I had so much fun getting to know all these guys and playing at a Major League stadium in front of my family."
Givens reflects on prestigious honor
A day after winning the Jackie Robinson Award as the national high school player of the year, Plant (Tampa, Fla.) shortstop/pitcher Mychal Givens still couldn't believe it was a reality.
"I'm still in shock, I really am," Givens said. "As an African-American, winning this award is even more special. And to win it the year the game is at Dodger Stadium -- I mean there were posters of Jackie all over the stadium. It makes you realize how much you have to live up to."
Givens may have been stunned by the honor, but that didn't mean he wasn't prepared when he took the microphone for a speech at moments after winning the award at Friday's ceremony.
"I ended with a joke," Givens said with a smile. "I said that Ozzie (Smith -- the Aflac Game's honorary chairman) had taught me a lot during the week, but he still hadn't taught me how to do a back flip and that was what I wanted to know most of all."
Givens didn't have a great game Saturday, finishing 0-for-3. But he was all smiles after the game given his team's come-from-behind win and his overall enjoyment of the week.
"This is a dream come true," said Givens, who is in position to be one of the first high schoolers drafted in next June's MLB Draft. "I couldn't have imagined a better week than this."
Matt Remsberg covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com.
25mTristan H. Cockcroft