by Bradey King
After months of long practices and preparation, the Athletics Mercado’s hard work paid off Sunday as they went undefeated in the Sparkler Juniors 12u Open division in Colorado Springs.
“This same team here, minus a few pieces we’ve added, finished fifth here last year, as a first-year team. So their goal all year was to come back and win it and they definitely did that,” said head coach Rick Hovermale. “This team is special; we’ve been handpicking this team and training them for four years.”
In all games but one, the Athletics run-ruled their opponents, going 11-0 overall. Both the Athletics and the Texas Blaze hadn’t been beat all week, but the long ball power from the Athletics ultimately sent them past the Blaze, 16-3, in five innings. The Athletics launched nearly 25 home runs throughout the week, five of those coming in the championship game.
With 82 teams in the 12u division, the Sparkler Juniors is a bigger stage than what these young athletes are used to; however, they didn’t seem fazed.
“It feels the same. I just had to pitch like always and I knew my team would back me up,” said Alexa Rosales. Rosales was a stud on the mound all weekend, posting a lot of strikeouts and a perfect record.
In the first inning, Priscilla Llamas did her job as a leadoff, hitting a single to right field to reach base. Llamas stole two bases and eventually crossed home plate on a RBI single from Jiselle Hernandez. The rally continued as Skye Johnson smacked a two-run bomb to put her team up 3-0.
Blaze answered back by plating one run in the bottom of the first, but Athletics quickly took back the momentum in their next at bat. Alyssa Hovermale led off the inning with a solo shot out of the park.
“Just working everyday has really helped me be on time. Base hits is all I really work for, today was my first home run ever,” said Alyssa Hovermale.
The Athletics offense exploded in the third inning after a Blaze error followed up by Karis Ford and Jasmyn Burns launching back-to-back home runs. Hovermale kept things rolling with a single of her own and Llamas drove her in to score. The inning concluded, but not before another error and a 2-RBI single from Rosales plated three more to make the score 11-1.
The Athletics tacked on a few more runs in the fifth beginning with a perfectly placed slap from Dakota Potter. Ford’s bat stayed hot, as she knocked in Potter on a ground rule double. The game was in the hands of the Athletics and Johnson sealed the deal with a three-run homer, her second of the day.
“It felt great. I was just playing for my Grandpa so I was just thinking that whatever happens, I’m playing for him,” said Johnson, whose grandfather recently passed away.
This young and talented Athletics Mercado team heads back to California with a well-deserved Sparkler Juniors trophy in hand and a week of fun memories with their teammates and families.
“I just need to make sure they stay humble and keep working,” added coach Hovermale.