By Kyle Koso
AURORA, Colo. – With 22 players on the roster, a healthy amount of noise can get generated by the 18u Oro Valley Suncats-Judge when the entire dugout decides to chip in.
And even though it’s one-at-a-time when it comes to swinging the bat, the Suncats can amplify to an impressive volume there, as well.
The Suncats capped off a near-flawless journey in Triple Crown’s Fireworks 18u Power Pool with a top-to-bottom performance in the title game, moving past Tampa Mustangs-TJ by a score of 9-3 on Sunday at the Aurora Sports Park. It took a few innings for the Suncats to get untracked, but bursts of four runs in the fourth inning and five more in the fifth elevated their comfort level and added to the feel of celebration and fun that the team exhibited all afternoon.
Starting pitcher Morgan Leinstock, who is headed to Arizona State this fall, was stellar in the circle, allowing four hits and striking out six, staying out of serious trouble with the Mustangs’ batting order. Madelyn Bejarano (Central Florida) was a terror at the leadoff spot with four RBI and four hits, including a seal-the-deal three-run homer in the fifth.
There’s nothing inevitable about hitting the ball, but the Suncats feel they will usually find a way to create offense.
“I couldn’t be happier for these girls. People don’t know how much they work outside of tournaments and games; we weight train and run together and work real hard,” said Suncats coach Todd Judge. “I’ve had two or three teams a year, and this time I decided to take just one team and put all my efforts there. They have great chemistry.
“They get down, they don’t panic. And I know how good the Tampa Mustangs are; I didn’t get comfortable even with a six-run lead. Morgan is a great kid and her energy … the girls on the team just absolutely love her. She’s just tapping into her potential.”
Leinstock was tough with her drop ball and changeup, and she was about to get real tough on her coach if he hadn’t let her take the ball to the circle for the championship game.
“I was never nervous about the offense; I believe in them and in this team. I knew they could do their thing,” she said. “I don’t get nervous. I always think, go after the batters and attack the zone. It’s the game; you just have to have fun. I told my coach, after I pitched the other games today, and said Coach Todd, I got this. I want this big game. I was so excited to have the chance.”
The Mustangs took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. With two outs, Brooklyn Lucero (North Carolina State) lifted a single to center, that bounced away from the diving centerfielder, and that allowed Avery Goelz (Florida) to score from first base.
Bejarano drove in the Suncats’ third run with a single in the fourth. Her homer in the fifth came with two strikes, an at-bat where she was more excited about the opportunity than worried about being down in the count.
“We know we’re going to come back. I did relax, and we feel we’ve done it before so we will do it again. I’ve never seen our team hit like we did this weekend,” she said. “She was throwing pretty hard, and then I got a bunch of up-balls. I took two hard cuts and said, well with two outs, I might as well go for it. I got another up-ball and just took a swing.
“We were taking it one game at a time, but we knew we could take it all, and it was in our hands.”
The Suncats started Sunday with a 6-4 win over AZ Hotshots Gold-Davis, then they topped the Scrap Yard Internationals, 11-4. In the semis, they beat Atlanta Premier Gold, 7-2. Alynah Torres (Arizona State) homered for the Suncats against the Mustangs to start the fifth inning.
Katelyn Kistler (Florida) walked, doubled and scored for the Mustangs, and Lucero had two hits.