Orlando is a sunny, warm setting for youth sports but one filled with lots of theme-park trappings.
Nevertheless, the Mountain Expos baseball team was on a mission at the 13 and under AAU Grand Nationals.
Players from Buncombe, Henderson and Macon counties combined forces to win the championship Sunday inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Ethan Miller was at the plate when Zack Edwards scored from third base on a suicide squeeze in the ninth inning of a 5-4 victory over Team Elite out of Florida.
Overall, the Expos went 9-1 in Florida with their only loss in pool play coming to Team Elite.
“The guys went down there with a purpose to play baseball. And they had a good time,” Expos coach Mike Andress said.
“One of the things about this trip to Orlando is we didn’t want them to just play, we wanted them to learn to compete and that’s what they did. They found a way. Every player took their game to a higher level while they were down there.”
Four Expos players hit home runs during the tournament — Mac Gortney (three), Tim Mosso (three), Ivann Rodriguez (one) and Jack Galbraith (one).
Galbraith was at third base on the opening day of the tournament (June 22) when he suffered a fractured jaw that required surgery. The rising eighth grader at Valley Springs Middle School returned two days later and pitched seven of the nine innings in the championship game.
Mosso, who is a rising freshman at West Henderson, had a walkoff homer in the semifinals. He was interviewed by ESPN for the network’s video footage of the tournament.
“The feeling from all of this is just really awesome,” Mosso said.
“Everyone on the team kept stepping up, and the coaches put us in a position to succeed and adapt to the competition.”
Since the Expos were playing in the same vicinity as the Gulf Coast League Braves, they were visited last week by Atlanta first-round draft pick Braxton Davidson. Davidson, who is a Louisville Slugger and MaxPreps All-American from Roberson, recently agreed to a $1.7 million signing bonus with Atlanta. He is now in Florida with their rookie league team.
“It was an absolute crazy experience,” Mosso said.
“The dugouts were underground and the field was super nice. We even walked into the Braves locker room, but we got thrown out. It was killer.”
The rest of the Expos are: Kye Andress, Luke Wood, Blake Gibson, Devin Dickens, Jordan Pendley and Caleb Franz.
Franz did not take part in the Orlando tournament. Andress’ assistant coaches are Sam Edwards and Chris Wood.
Andress said the national championship is a culmination of sorts for the Expos, who have put in their share of miles to find the best competition possible.
“We’ve tried to play over our heads, whether it meant traveling to Charleston (S.C.), Charlotte or Rocky Mount,” Andress said.
“We wanted to find the best teams in our age group so we just chased them. And this group we have are talented in their own way.”