Late Wednesday night, Owensboro Southern manager Todd Lillpop won the coin flip against his Bowling Green East counterpart Anthony Gilbert. And, in a calculated gamble, Lillpop chose to be the visiting team in Thursday's 11-year-old Little League Baseball District 1 All-Star Tournament championship game.
The gamble paid off big time.
In a tense, spine-tingling battle that was still in question until the final pitch, Southern scored three first-inning runs, never trailed, and held off their late-charging rivals to win a hotly-contested 5-3 decision at Country Heights Elementary School.
The victory advances Southern to the Kentucky Little League State Tournament, which begins next Friday in Prestonsburg.
"How 'bout these kids?" a beaming Lillpop exclaimed afterward. "I'm just so proud of the way we've come together as a baseball team.
"I wanted us to get off to a fast start and we were able to do that."
It didn't take long.
Leadoff batter Ty Ashley drilled a long home run over the left-field fence to provide Southern an immediate 1-0 lead. Jayden James followed with a walk, Ty Lillpop singled, and, one out later, Brayden Burger stroked a two-run single to make it 3-0.
"Ty Ashley set the tone for us with that home run, and we were able to add two more," Lillpop said. "That was a great way to start the game."
Bowling Green East -- which defeated Southern 15-5 in pool play -- sliced its deficit to a single run in the bottom of the second when Drew Pierce reached on an error, Hudson Nottmeier singled, and Lincoln Fowler followed with a two-run double to left to make it 3-2.
Neither team scored again until the sixth.
In the top of the inning, Southern tacked on what would prove to be a pair of valuable insurance runs -- getting RBI singles from James and Lillpop to stretch their lead to 5-2.
BG East, however, did not go quietly, scoring once in the bottom of the frame and leaving the bases loaded when Lillpop, in relief of James, fanned Griff Veazey to end a riveting contest.
"Jayden James was tremendous on the mound and Ty Lillpop came in at the end and closed the door," Lillpop said.
Over 52/3 innings, James allowed three runs and scattered eight hits. He also was stellar at the plate, getting two hits and reaching base four times. Lillpop had two hits and Burger drove in two runs.
Fowler had two hits and two RBIs to pace Bowling Green East.
"They're so good," Lillpop said of BG East, "that you have to do all the little things right to win."
OWENSBORO SOUTHERN 300-002 -- 5-7-4
BOWLING GREEN EAST 020-001 -- 3-8-1