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Area team wins AAU national title


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2000

The Tampa Tornadoes 15-under AAU baseball team captured the national title in Kingsport, Tenn., earlier this month. The Tornadoes, who had a previous-best national finish of third in 1998, went 10-2 in pool play in the 56-team tournament before rattling off four consecutive victories in elimination play to win the championship.

"It's a great feeling to achieve a dream after six years of going to (the national tournament) and just missing the gold," manager Robert Leffler said.

In their first elimination game (round of 16), the Tornadoes beat the Indiana Bulls 6-3.

Matt Fuchs (Lakeland Jenkins High) pitched six innings to earn the win, and James Houser (Sarasota) notched the save.

Brandon McArthur (Armwood) and Steven Clark (Armwood) combined to allow just one run in Tampa's 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Team Connecticut, and Clark came back to beat Team San Diego 6-1 in the semifinal.

The game was a grudge match as San Diego had eliminated the Tornadoes in last year's national tournament in Oklahoma City, winning 8-7 in extra innings.

In the all-Florida title game, the Tornadoes defeated the Jacksonville Royals 7-4. The Royals had won the state tournament in May, with Tampa placing third.

Fuchs pitched four innings, Willie Elliott (Sarasota) one inning and Houser the final two. Elliott had a two-run double, and Houser had a two-run single.

Elliott had pitched just two innings in the tournament, and his one inning in the title game was critical.

Staff aces Clark, McArthur and Fuchs each had worked the maximum amount of innings allowed. Houser had only two left to reach the maximum, which the coaching staff decided to save for the final two innings.

Two Northside Christian players, catcher Scott Leffler (.450 average, 2 home runs, 5 doubles) and outfielder Brian Leclerc (.355 average, .500 on-base average), were named to the all-tournament team, as were two Armwood players, McArthur (3 wins, 17 innings, 1.67 ERA; .400 average) and Clark (1 win, 3 saves, 17 innings, 1.67 ERA).

Leffler was named the tournament's most valuable player.

In 16 tournament games, the Tornadoes committed just nine errors.

Josh Johnson (King), Justin Roth (River Ridge), Brian Pete (Armwood) and D.J. Burruezo (Tampa Baptist; .400 average) completed the squad.

Pete sustained a hernia and played only the first day.

Houser joined the squad after the opening day, so the Tornadoes never had more than 10 players.

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