by Michael Roley
There’s a common cliché used in sports for motivational purposes that most athletes have likely heard.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
That saying is applicable in many situations. However, when a team starts well, maintains that steady level of play throughout its performance, and then tops things off with a strong finish, that arguably overused cliché is rather invalid.
And the performance from the Firecrackers CC-James 14U team Friday afternoon would be one that would qualify as such. The Firecrackers, based out of Central California, took an early lead, played solidly throughout, and then closed the door at the end as they beat Impact Gold DFW by a score of 5-3 at Barnes Complex in Loveland.
The win advanced the Firecrackers through to the next round of bracket play in the 14 Open Gold A division.
“What impressed me the most is they come out focused and ready to go every time,” head coach Sidney James said. “It’s not trying to overplay and overdo it, just keeping things simple, pitching and hitting well, being disciplined and having great-at bats. We did that for the course of the game and that’s what impressed me. And that’s what helps us be successful.”
The Firecrackers came out strong with their first two batters reaching base. A sacrifice bunt from shortstop Marissa Fondtain put runners on second and third for starting pitcher Lillianna Garcia, who hit a two-run single to left field to give the Firecrackers the early lead.
Perhaps one of the most defining plays of the game occurred in the bottom half of the first with Garcia in the circle and the Impact with runners on first and third. The Impact’s Emma Robertson hit a fly-ball to right field where the Firecrackers’ right fielder caught it before firing a bullet toward home as an Impact runner tagged from third.
The throw was perfectly on-line, up the third base side where catcher Aaliyah Pineda caught and applied the tag for the out. As this was happening, the Impact’s runner on first broke for second. After the tag, Pineda fired the ball down to second to nail the runner and complete a rare triple play.
“I think that picked us up.” Garcia said. “They had runners on and I was starting to get a little frustrated and then when they picked me up like that, it was really nice.”
Garcia delivered a gem of an outing in the circle. The rising freshman, who also plays second base, threw seven innings and allowed just three runs while striking out six batters. The Impact were not able to square many balls up against her as she induced several pop-ups to the infield and numerous ground balls that the Firecrackers defense handled without incident.
She said afterward that her best pitch, her curveball, was spot-on throughout the afternoon.
“I was just focused on hitting my spots,” Garcia said. “And I knew my team was going to be there to back me up.”
The Firecrackers pushed across two more runs in the second thanks to a two-run double from Destyne White. They would add their fifth run in the fifth inning on a Pineda RBI single.
The Impact started a mini-rally in the sixth on a run-scoring double from Baylea Myers followed by an RBI single from Bianca Raney that shrunk the Firecrackers’ lead to 5-3, where it would stay the rest of the contest.
The Impact brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but Garcia struck out the final batter of the game to secure the win.
The Firecrackers are now 5-0 at the Colorado 4th of July tournament after running the table in pool play. Now after a win to kick off bracket play, they are poised for the rest of the weekend.
“We just need to stay disciplined, stay humble, pitch well, hit well, and play clean defense,” James said. “It’s out there for anybody to grab.”
Whatever the bracket, whatever the location, the 18u Minnesota SnoCatz Black is looking to make a dent in the Colorado 4th of July tournament.
Making their way through the Sparkler 18 Open Mt. Elbert II bracket, the SnoCatz were sizzling at the plate and lock-down tough on defense in posting two wins Friday, 8-1 over the NJ Heist Elite and then 10-1 over the Next Level 18-Mena squad.
That sets up Saturday’s matchup with Team TFS Elite, with a chance to advance to the bracket championship on the line.
“This was a continuation - I’ve had this team for five years now, and we’ve kept the core together. They practice even harder,” said SnoCatz head coach Jeremy Schauer. “They’re doing what they are supposed to, and I’m very proud of them. We play all year, on the carpet in domes (in bad weather). We work hard, practice even on game days in the morning. It’s a different breed of girls.”
Game 2 on Friday featured the SnoCatz at their sharpest, grabbing early control of the game. A two-run double by Morgan Strombeck broke the game open, and starting pitcher Samantha Pederson sailed through the Next Level lineup. In the second inning, the SnoCatz had seven straight hits, which led to five runs.
“Sam’s our fireballer; she can bring the heat but today she really didn’t need to. She was at 60-62 (mph) but she will hit 68,” Schauer said.
“Coming into the tournament, we knew we were going to have some big competition, but I feel our team is good enough to battle anybody,” Strombeck said. “I expect us to go to the championship. Earlier today I wasn’t hitting that well, so other I was thinking was to keep my weight back and turn my knee as fast as I can. We don’t like to let any team back in; we want to keep scoring.”
Cassie Sinn scored two runs, as did Coryn Jacobson and Cassie Schuster.
You can’t manufacture experience.
Almost half of New Jersey Heist’s Gold roster played in and won the Colorado Sparkler tournament twice. Six games into the 2018 edition, the Heist doesn’t boast a perfect record but has won when it matters, including a 6-1 victory over All American Fastpitch on Friday afternoon, keeping them atop of the 18u Open Mt. Elbert Bracket.
Emerging as the No. 2 seed out of Pool L, New Jersey sat just three wins from earning a berth into the top championship bracket. Facing Premier Speed International early Friday morning, the Heist edged out a win in a high scoring, 9-7, affair.
“What I think you saw today was that offense cures a lot of problems,” said head coach Sergio Rodriguez. “We weren’t perfect, but we made the plays we needed to make and came up with some clutch runs.”
The first inning of New Jersey’s second of its back-to-back games against All American Fastpitch moved swiftly. Neither team able to squeak across a run, the Heist looked to break open the game in the top of the second.
Stephani Kantanas kicked the half-inning off with a single, and two batters later Ava Fernandez drove her home with an RBI base hit.
“We were seeing a lot more inside pitches than outside,” said Kantanas, who finished the game with two hits, two runs scored, an RBI and a stolen base. “When that happens, you just have to keep your momentum inwards and focus driving the ball up the middle.”
Jackie Carifi added a second run in the frame on an RBI double that scored Fernandez, giving the Heist a 2-0 advantage.
With its first lead of the contest, New Jersey’s potential victory rested in the hands of starting pitcher Cat Thomas. Thomas’ only blemish can in the bottom of the second inning on a first-pitch home run to Sheridan Wade. Despite the lone long-ball, Thomas frequently set down All American, compiling three 1-2-3 innings.
“I was relying pretty heavily on my off-speed pitches today,” said Thomas. “My curveball, screwball and changeup were all working pretty well. It helps when I am able to mix up pitches like that.”
Each team held serve until the sixth inning. Looking for a little insurance, Thomas helped herself and her team with a two-run home run.
“I was ahead in the count,” explained Thomas. “As soon as I saw my pitch, I was looking to attack it.”
New Jersey added a third run in the inning when Jackie Lara scored Fernandez on an RBI double. After starting the frame with a 2-1 lead, the Heist now held a sizable cushion, 5-1.
“You have to give a lot of credit to the way Thomas pitched today,” said Rodriguez. “We ended up scoring a few runs late, but the game was still in doubt until the sixth inning. She kept us ahead the whole time.”
Thomas quieted All American in the bottom of the sixth, allowing the Heist to tack on one more run in the top of the seventh when Camryn Davies scurried home on a Jackie Lara single.
One last time, Thomas trotted back to the circle, this time to close out the contest. Tallying her eighth strikeout of the game, Thomas sealed the win, 6-1.
While Thomas caught All American with eight total strikeouts, New Jersey struck out just once in 35 at-bats. A common theme among Rodriguez’s group.
“We stress with our kids all the time, know your role,” Rodriguez said. “If you’re a home run hitter, take your cut, if your someone who’s just a singles hitter, pass the baton to somebody else.”
The Heist enjoy a much-deserved elongated brake before facing Firecrackers-Kimura on Saturday afternoon. A win would ensure New Jersey a spot in the single-elimination championship bracket.
“We have great team chemistry,” said Kantanas. “As long as we stay true to ourselves, don’t knock someone when they’re down and keep our heads up, I think we’ll go pretty far.”
When you suffer an enormous loss, sports becomes a place you can lose yourself, at least for a little while.
Playing all week in the shadow on the untimely death of a former player, the Birmingham Thunderbolts scored in five of their six innings Thursday in the Fireworks 16u TV Power Poll game and eased past Firecrackers-Brashear for a 12-4 run-rule victory at the Aurora Sports Park. Shelby Lowe (an Auburn commit) threw a complete game and allowed five hits in six innings of work.
On Tuesday, 18-year-old Alex Wilcox, who played for the Thunderbolts and just finished her freshman year at Mississippi State, died after fighting ovarian cancer for more than two years. The 16u roster was short two pieces as sister Kassidy Wilcox (a South Alabama commit) and head coach Keith Dorsett were back home for the funeral; the post-game celebration had its share of smiles, but it was clear that Alex Wilcox’s legacy took center stage.
“This is about the Wilcox family and the Bolts organization. What a great group of kids, been together eight years or more and know how to be true sisters,” said Bolts assistant coach James Webster. “The team fought tonight and never quit, just like Alex did. A lot of that fight lives in these girls, and they simply weren’t going to quit. Coach Dorsett got them prepared to play in this tournament and has been there for them for so many years.”
In terms of Thursday’s game, the Bolts had to shake off an early miscue, when two fielders ran into each other and allowed a fly ball to drop. Laylo Melendez (Utah) of the Firecrackers drilled a two-run homer, and the Bolts were down heading into the bottom of the first.
Three hits, a walk and an error put two runs up for the Bolts; they pulled ahead 3-2 in the third after a triple by Alicyn Grete (Army) and a single from TJ Webster, and then scored seven runs combined in the fourth and fifth innings.
Lowe might have been bothered by that first-inning glitch, but any discomfort was temporary.
“I just took a deep breath there in the first and thought about restarting. I didn’t want to let it affect me,” Lowe said. “We come back and score those two runs, and I knew after that we’d hit the ball the whole game. I felt like I did a pretty good job, got more pop flys and ground balls, and balls where people behind me could make plays.”
Webster was the definition of the hard-to-contain leadoff hitter, scoring four runs and notching three hits and a walk. She scored the clinching run of the night on a single from Caroline Hudson (Liberty).
“Honestly, I just look at the defense and read them, then try to put the ball in play the best I can do,” she said. “Bunting is my main priority; (swinging away) is when I’m low in the count and can’t bunt. It helps me move runners around, and if you have speed, you might as well use it.”
Melendez drove in three runs for the Firecrackers; Kelly Ryono (Illinois) tripled and scored in the fourth, and Bailey Wallace (Cal State Fullerton) singled and scored in the fifth on a hit from Megan Ryono (Columbia).
by Kyle Koso
For Savannah Guerin, the best response to the sight of opponents bleeding her pitch count was to perform some impressive surgery in the circle.
Guerin scattered five hits in seven innings of work for the Diamond Sports Hotshots-Nelson on Thursday in the 14u Power Pool TV Bracket, and her offense came through with two big innings in what became an 8-3 victory over Tennessee Mojo 2021 at the Aurora Sports Park. Madyson Manning (an Oklahoma commit) had a two-run double, and both Kasidi Pickering and Ashlyn Jones (Texas A&M) scored twice.
While the Hotshots scored five runs in the first inning to grab a lead, Guerin faced adversity in the second as two long pitch-after-pitch at-bats from Mojo's Emma Minghini (Penn State) and Claire Czajkowski put runners on first and second. They ultimately scored on a single from Jade Howard, but Guerin struck out the next two batters, showing she wouldn't be troubled by the rally.
"I was a little nervous, but I knew my offense had my back," said Guerin, who struck out seven batters and is also headed to Oklahoma. "I wasn't going to let anything bad happen. I was getting a little frustrated, and things like that can happen. I was excited, and deep down I knew we had it after we scored the early runs."
"That's what we see all the time, her ability to minimize trouble. You'll give up a walk or hit, but what she and the defense can do is get out of trouble," said Hotshots assistant coach Rick Vasquez. "Her changeup keeps the batters off balance all the time, and it's hard to get in a rhythm against her. It's a credit to her composure."
Manning's first-inning double was an impressive blast that bounced on the fly off the right-centerfield fence, and the Hotshots followed it up with RBI singles from Brooklyn Bockhaus and Kelsey Gaspard. The team had four runners reach in the third but went scoreless before bringing across three runs in the fourth.
"I'm thinking, just drive it. I have to score the two runners there," Manning said. "So I did it. I felt like we weren't hitting it in the gaps when we needed to there (in the third inning)."
In the fourth, Kennedy Powell (UCLA) reached on a bunt single, moved to third on a stolen base and error, then scored on a perfect bunt from Jones.
"Our offense over the last two months ... we've always been good at the short game and being able to execute at the top of the order," Vasquez added. "Now, we can surprise you at any time. We have power, we drive it in the alleys, and we have speed. Pressure on the defense has turned us into a very complete team; we knew we had the pitching and defense."
Mojo scored a run in the seventh; Lydia Coleman doubled with two outs and scored on a single from Sadie Saul (Arkansas).
By Michael Roley
A team firing on all cylinders in all aspects of the game is going to be difficult to beat.
Case in point: The New Jersey Heist 18U elite team in an 11-1 win in five innings over A Cut Above-Munoz Thursday morning at Carroll Butts Park in Westminster in Box Bracket P play of the 18 open division.
The Heist (Bloomfield, New Jersey) did a little of everything at the plate, earning several walks to crowd the bases and take an early lead before the bats came alive in the fourth and fifth innings. Starting pitcher Lexi Corio tossed five innings of one-run ball while allowing just one hit and walking two. Behind her, the Heist’s defense was solid, as well.
“Our kids took command of the game at the plate,” head coach Jack Casimiro said. “We hit the ball well. We played solid defense throughout and I think that’s what made the difference for us today. I thought it was an all-around good game for us.”
A Cut Above (West Covina, California) held the Heist scoreless through the first two innings. But a second time through the batting order proved huge. The elite squad from New Jersey felt more comfortable at the plate and knew what to expect.
“I think we had more confidence (the second time through),” third baseman Shana Donnelly said. “I think we just came together towards the end and picked up the energy.”
And a likely source of that energy? The Heist’s first game of the day.
The Heist came away with a 13-9 win over American Freedom Express 18U in a game that featured some wild scoring swings. In that matchup, the Heist stormed out to a six-run lead in the first inning and then lead by as much as 9-1 before the Freedom Express team rallied all the way back to tie it at nine before the Heist scored the final four runs to secure the win.
“I think that just helped us play better.” Corio said of the earlier game.
The memory of that game didn’t fade away quickly. And not just because the Heist played their two games on Thursday back-to-back. A similar scenario unfolded in the second game.
The Heist took a 3-0 lead after three consecutive walks loaded the bases in the third inning. They played a little bit of small ball to push across those three runs, including an RBI ground-out and an RBI single from Corio before scoring the final run from third when the opposing catcher threw down to second to catch Corio stealing. They did, but not before Aryana Galioto scored on a timing play.
After A Cut Above scored their lone run in the third, the Heist scored four more in the fourth to make the score 7-1. This time, the lead would not be relinquished.
“We kept going, we kept hitting,” Corio said. “We weren’t going to say ‘Oh let’s give them a break.’ We just kept hitting and kept playing the way we know.”
Donnelly delivered an RBI single in the fifth and then Mariah Villanueva ripped a run-scoring double. Naya Olacio hit an RBI triple to make the score 10-1. Then, Olivia Mudrick came through with the Heist’s fourth straight hit, a RBI single to right field to put the 10-run rule into play.
The Heist scored runs in a multitude of ways. They walked to get on base, took advantage of several errors, advanced runners when needed, and delivered timely hits with runners in scoring position. It felt as if the only thing missing was a home run. The versatility offensively is certainly an asset that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I think we’re really good at that,” Mudrick said. “We have a lot of players who can bunt and a lot of players who can hit line drives and balls to the fence. We have a variety of people who do different things and I think today it all just fell together. Everyone know what their job was and that was to get on base and everyone did their job.”
The Heist picked up two wins Thursday in two rather different ways. They commanded a game throughout for one win and then battled through adversity to win a tight game in the other. But there was factor that remained constant.
“We didn’t give up,” Donnelly said. “We never gave up this whole day. We just kept fighting and there was no doubt in my mind we were going to win.”
Oregon Titans Demarini 18 Gold secures top seed out of Fireworks Supplemental bracket
By Adam Dunivan
COMMERCE CITY -- As the Colorado temperatures reached triple digits on Thursday afternoon, it was hard to blame the Oregon Titans Demarini 18 Gold fastpitch team to have a little bit of a lull in their production.
However, thanks to some steady pitching and a small but never-too-late burst of bat work, the Titans secured the top seed out of the Colorado Fireworks BB Supplemental Box Bracket with a 5-1 win over the previously undefeated Absolute Blast 18G-Dailey.
Zoe Munn's walk-off, two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning of the Titans' opening bracket game against the New Jersey Pride Gold carried a spark of energy into their winner's game, and Hannah McNerney's two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning against the Absolute Blast helped create a more comfortable cushion and an eventual win.
"At the start of this game we had a lot of energy and we were able to score two right out of the box, but we kind of lost our energy in the middle innings and rested on our laurels a bit," said head coach Ryan Munn, whose team only had five hits but received clutch pitching from McNerney and Taylor Redman. "We picked it back up at the end, and Hannah's home run gave us some needed security. Hopefully we can do better things tomorrow."
The bracket winner's game was a regional battle, as Absolute Blast calls Seattle, Washington, its home base. For a long time in the game, it was also very much a pitcher's duel between Redman and Blast pitcher Kate Houghton.
The Titans scored two runs in the first inning using productive outs to get runs home, and Houghton worked around baserunners in the third and fourth innings before Zoe Munn smacked a double to lead off the sixth. McNerney's home run followed an RBI base hit from Sasha Tanoue-Kekona, who had two of her team's hits.
Redman found a groove in the third and fourth innings, striking out four of the final six batters she faced in what eventually would be her win in the circle.
"Hannah did amazing and just came through in the clutch, honestly," said Tanoue-Kekona, who will be going to Corban University this fall. "She did what she does best. Taylor also did amazing today.
"We finally united as one team today, not playing as individuals. I'm glad we're moving on together."
Coach Munn was thrilled about his pitcher's efforts, and that included Kamryn Coleman's work in the tight 5-4 win over the Pride.
"We're missing one of our pitchers this week, but the three pitchers we have all did their job today and held both the other teams at bay," Munn said. "They just did a good job mixing it up and keeping them off balance."
By Adam Dunivan
COMMERCE CITY -- The All American Sports Academy Macias 18G fastpitch team isn't all about power hitting, but those who didn't follow the team prior to the Colorado Fireworks tournament could very easily adopt that impression.
That propensity for power played out on Thursday at the Pioneer Park fields in Commerce City, where in two games of the CC Elite Box Bracket play, AASA-Macias smacked six home runs from six different girls en route to a 2-0 day and a position in the top tier of elimination play for the weekend. In the CC Elite pool winner's game, Kelsey Hall's grand slam in the third inning was followed by fourth-inning blasts from Madi Mays and Lainey Hanehan, and AASA-Macias 18G went on to beat Breakers Labs 18U by an 8-4 score.
"I definitely can say that we can hit the ball for power but I think now we are just starting to turn it on and everyone's starting to get comfortable again," said Hall, who hit leadoff and saw the rest of her teammates produce nine total hits in their second game. "We're feeding off each other and each other's energy. For me, I just want to hit for my team, and that's what everyone else wants to do, too."
"The girls are taking care of one another, and that's what we preach. There's no one girl stepping up, it's everyone stepping up in that moment, and I think the girls are just seeing the ball well, obviously," head coach Brandi Macias added. "We started a litte slow, but something you want to see for any team is to peak as we go, and I feel like we're climbing that ladder."
AASA, based out of Brentwood, Calif., has come to the Fireworks tournament loaded with Division I softball commits and a clear vision of trying to win the event. Macias is carrying just three girls, one being Hanehan, that have not at least verbally pledged to a school. Macias said she is proud of how the team has come together to play for those uncommitted girls so far, as they have gone 4-0 and have outscored their opponents 34-10.
Hanehan has carried a lot of the pitching load so far, and against the Breakers got some key early outs after giving up an unearned run in the second inning. The Breakers (San Diego, Calif.) scored three times in the fourth inning, but Catherine Jensen was able to come on in relief and close the door with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless pitching.
AASA-Macias 18G was ahead 7-1 after Hanehan's two-run home run. Olivia Maglalang, an uncommitted rising junior, had two hits and scored twice, as well.
"The team is playing for those (uncommitted) girls because we collectively want all of them to go somewhere great to get an education," Macias said. "Triple Crown allows that by putting us in front of great (college) coaches, too. Lainey has shown, in my opinion, consistency. That's what these coaches within these universities want to see."
"It feels great to see our team playing good defense and scoring runs," Hanehan said. "When someone gets one hit, it just feels like we all can keep going."
With all the excitement and festivities surround the 2018 Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks, it would have been easy to forget the importance of box bracket play in the 16u open division. SoCal 3D Gold, however, arrived at Pioneer Park with a focused and determined look on their faces, securing two important wins, including a 7-5 victory over Atlanta Premier to grab first place in Pool AY.
“It’s always a challenge getting these girls out of bed and focused early in the morning,” said head coach Mike Klepfer. “They were ready to go today, and it paid off tremendously.”
Squeezing past the Oklahoma Blaze, 7-4, SoCal regrouped for a second of a back-to-back against an Atlanta Premier team that rolled to a 14-4 win over The Warriors. Energized by an easy win in game one, Atlanta quickly loaded the bases, prompting coach Klepfer to lean on Jenna Rorick to get out of the jam.
“My job was to just go in there and throw strikes,” said Rorick. “I knew that I had good teammates behind me and if I did my job, we’d get out of there still in the ballgame.”
Only two runs crossed the plate in that opening frame, giving 3D Gold an opportunity to cut into the lead.
SoCal’s chance wouldn’t arrive until the bottom of the second inning when Julie Guzman stepped to the plate.
“I was trying to be as disciplined as I could be,” explained Guzman. “They were certainly trying to get me out of my comfort zone. When they pitch you inside, you have to let the outside go. That’s exactly what I did and I was able to deliver for the team.”
Guzman’s single started a two-run second inning which also saw an RBI double from Rorick that tied the game at two.
Atlanta Premier jumped back on top with two runs in the third frame, but the resilient SoCal squad battled back for another game-tying effort in the fourth. RBI singles from Guzman and Amanda Carey flipped swung the momentum back in favor of 3D Gold.
“We were down at some point in both games today,” Klepfer said. “Both times these girls battled back and showed their true grit.”
Back on defense, SoCal and Rorick settled into a groove. Between the fourth and sixth innings, Rorick gave up just one hit and struck out one while letting her defense combine for the other eight putouts.
Needing three outs in the top of the seventh inning to secure the number one seed, Rorick put the game in the hands of her defense one last time. After giving up a lead-off double, Atlanta continued to apply the pressure, tallying another base hit to bring Premier within two, 7-5.
Two batters and a strikeout later, Atlanta had the bases loaded, the go-ahead run on first and was down to its last strike. A long fly ball hit deep to center field in the direction of Julie Guzman had all in attendance on their feet. Guzman, to the delight of the 3D gold faithful, squeezed the final out, ending the game.
“As soon as that ball went in the air, I knew (Guzman) was going to catch it,” said Rorick. “She’s made that play a hundred times in practice and I had no doubt she was going to make it then.”
As the number one seed out of its pool, SoCal enjoys a high seed in the Mt. Elbert bracket and an easier path than most to the championship bracket. With plenty of road ahead of them, 3D Gold aims to enjoy the victory while taking the tournament one step at a time.
“It’s a lot to manage between showcases and tournament games,” said Klepfer. “We have 18 girls on our roster and we’ll look to get everyone some playing time and continue to win games.”
By Michael Roley
The Firecrackers-DFW Rosales 18U team was in their element in more way than one Thursday afternoon.
As 100-degree temperatures beat down on players, coaches, umpires, and fans at Carroll Butts Park in Westminster, the team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas was not bothered much by the conditions. In fact, the Texans are accustomed to that type of heat in their home state plus some humidity.
And then on the field, they were more than in their element at the plate as the Firecrackers slapped the ball all over the diamond and found numerous ways to get on base in a 12-6 win over USSSA Pride Elite 18A- Lucero in Box Bracket K play.
“The heat is the same but its dry here versus its really humid down in Texas,” coach Tony Rosales said. “We have a couple girls from Oklahoma so it is similar. It’ll get over 100 out there.”
The Firecrackers kicked things off in the top of the first by showing tremendous patience at the plate. After two quick outs, the first two batters drew walks and then Payton Compton was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Katie Baeumler then drew the Firecrackers’ third walk of the inning to bring home their first run.
Like most ballplayers, Baeumler, who also hit her first career home run with a solo shot in the fourth, she wants to hit. But she also recognizes when patience is required.
“It’s hard for me personally to stay back and get a walk because I want to hit so bad,” Baeumler said. “But they (pointing at teammates) are pretty patient.”
“Since I’m lead-off I usually just wait a couple pitches, see what she does and get her groove in then I usually just go with the flow,” Tristyn Hamilton said on her approach at the plate.
Following the walk spree, Serenity Hill hit a two-run single to give the Firecrackers a 3-0 lead.
However, the Pride responded in the bottom half of the first with three runs of their own on four base hits to knot the game at three after one inning.
But the Firecrackers were right back at it in the second with two more runs of their own. Kenzie Chambers started the inning with a single and a stolen base before coming around to score the Firecrackers’ fourth run. Ashlyn Lerma also hit a bunt single in the inning.
The Firecrackers’ speed put pressure on the Pride all game, recording multiple infield hits and stealing several bases. As it turns out, the smallest of details are what makes for success on the base paths.
“When I get on base and I look to steal, I always watch the catcher’s arm and if they’re coming up slow or if the pitcher isn’t looking at me I can pick her off going to second” Hamilton said. “Or if the catcher is lobbing it back, just little things like that.”
Taking advantage of situations like that and being able to swipe an extra base when the opportunity presents itself is a big part of the Firecrackers’ strategy, Rosales said.
“If there’s a chance when somebody is asleep, not paying attention they’ll take that extra base,” he said. “We have three or four players that are really fast and that’s a big part of our game. It’s probably 50 percent of our game just trying to use our speed as much as we can.”
It wasn’t just speed and patience that aided the Firecrackers’ offense Thursday. Hamilton blasted a two-run home run the third inning to extend the Firecrackers lead to 8-3 before Baeumler hit her first career home run in the fourth. And after the game, she was able to track down the ball from the umpire to take home as a keepsake.
The Firecrackers added on another run in the fifth and two more in the sixth. The Pride threatened in the fourth with the score 9-5 and runners on second and third with just one out. But the Firecrackers were able to avert any extensive damage with a strikeout and a pop-out to second.
by Kyle Koso
Never playing from behind, but never really pulling ahead, left the Firecrackers Brashear 18's drifting in a fuzzy place Wednesday.
But there's nothing like a big hit and some terrific defense to snap the moment into focus, and the Firecrackers got the clarity they needed on the way to a 7-5 victory over Oklahoma Athletics-Madden at the Colorado 4th of July TV Power Pool game in Westminster.
With the score knotted at 4-all and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Denise Armendariz lofted a home run to break the tie. Carley Brown (BYU) came in to pitch 2 2/3 innings of standout relief, and second baseman Alyssa Hernandez (Cal State Fullerton) and shortstop Angelina Bebek (Army) locked down on a few big fielding plays to seal the verdict.
Armendariz had singled twice earlier in the game, so she had the confidence and momentum needed for her big-moment swing in the fifth.
"I just wanted to have nice at-bat. I wanted to get the ball in play and hit it hard, and help my team get back up in the lead there," said Armendariz, who is headed to UNLV to play collegiately. "I was thinking in my other two at-bats and knew what I had to do to be successful. My team is always pretty confident; we had our pitcher's back and we knew we'd make it happen."
The Brashear squad jumped ahead 2-0 in the first, thanks to an error and a single from Armendariz. A home run from Kinsey Koeltzow (an Oklahoma signee) and an RBI single by Emily Hott (Baylor) tied it after the top of the third; RBI singles from Donna Friedman and Lani Rodriguez (Middle Tennessee State) pushed Brashear up again, 4-2.
Nobody could keep Koeltzow in the park, however, as she drilled another home run to bring in Mikayla Oaks (Cameron Univ.), tying the score 4-4. Armendariz answered with her homer, and the Firecrackers added two insurance runs in the fifth as Jacey Bourgeois (Long Beach State) chipped in with a sacrifice fly and Bebek came across on another error.
"I felt really calm; our coaches told us to remember that the best players are the calmest ones ... you embrace the opportunities you're given, and that's what I was doing," said Friedman, who had three hits and is headed to the University of Virginia. "We were confident in each other and knew we'd pick each other up. Carley came in and did a good job, looking very confident, and the defense has been super strong."
"Denise has been clutch for us and has hit big home runs for us the past three years. When the stage is bigger, that kid performs, and I felt it in my gut," said head coach Sean Brashear. "I told the dugout, D's gonna hit one. This is a great group, and as connected as any I've coached.
"They play for each other, and they are excited to make plays. We talk to them, how great players make great plays, good players make good plays, average players make average plays. Which one do you want to be? For tonight, they were great players."
The Athletics scored one more run in the top of the seventh, on a home run from Karrah Dean.
By Michael Roley
Several of the rides at Elitch Gardens Theme Park may not have as many twists and turns as Wednesday afternoon’s matchup between the St. Louis Chaos 16U team and the Wasco Diamonds 16U squad.
The game was a roller coaster of action, featuring four ties and three lead changes and little idea of who would come out on top as play entered the bottom of the sixth inning.
But ultimately, it was the Chaos who emerged with a 13-8 victory at Waddell Park thanks to timely hitting in a five-run sixth inning that ended up proving to be the difference.
“It was actually really exciting,” Chaos third basemen Laney Credeur said. “It made me love softball even more. When we were down, it gave us more energy and then when we were up, it gave us even more energy.”
To say Credeur had a productive day would be an understatement. The rising sophomore finished the game with five runs batted in, including a bases clearing triple in the sixth that blew the game open and put the Chaos in the driver’s seat. To top things off, Credeur hit a walk-off grand slam to secure a 10-run blowout in the Chaos’ first game of the day, a 13-3 win.
After a back-and-forth and tense few innings that saw the Chaos fall behind by as many as four runs, they began their rally in the fifth. Trailing 7-3, the Chaos loaded the bases with one out. Then Credeur hit a two-run double to bring the score within two at 7-5. In the next at bat, Sydney Melton hit the game-tying double to even things at seven.
Hanna Johanning kept the rally alive by driving in Melton to cap a five-run frame and put the Chaos ahead by one. But, in the top half of the sixth, the Diamonds put traffic on the base paths before pushing across the tying run on a play in which the Chaos turned a double play.
Then in the bottom half of the sixth, the Chaos once again loaded the bases and pinch hitter Lindsay McCarthy hit the go-ahead single to make the score 9-8. That set the stage for Credeur and her game-changing triple.
“I was really excited and I was out of breath,” Credeur joked. “I was just glad I could do that for my team.”
In a game where the emotions changed like the wind, it’s important to maintain an even-keel, something the Chaos executed well prior to their rally. And Chaos head coach Amanda Mohan said that mindset was primarily player-driven.
“They do a lot of it on their own,” Mohan said. “The main thing is they are staying in the moment. They’re not trying to do too much. They’re not trying to think about the next play. They’re thinking about that play at that time.”
Another area where the Chaos shined was in their baserunning. Mohan mentioned how they possess an ample amount of team speed. And they put that speed to good use Wednesday. Lead-off hitter Abigail Chipps beat out an infield single in the Chaos’ first at-bat of the game, then proceeded to steal second and third before scoring on a Diamonds overthrow from the pitcher.
Throughout the game, the Chaos stole several more bases and their sixth-inning rally was jumpstarted in part thanks to a bunt single from Abby Frankenreiter and another infield single from Chipps.
“The old saying ‘Speed kills.’ Pretty much our entire roster is quick and that puts pressure on the defense and makes them make mistakes,” Mohan said. “That allows us to take extra bases. I think the team today, they kind of weren’t paying attention a couple times and we were able to take the extra bag. It was really good we executed on that without me having to tell them. Because once I tell them, it’s too late.”
After the win, when the team was breaking its huddle following a chat with their coach, and a player audibly declared for those within ear shot “Can’t every game be like this!”
Credeur, who was jokingly fielding autograph requests from a few teammates in the dugout afterward agreed whole heartedly with that statement.
“It was just really exciting,” she said. “We all worked as a team to finish this game out.”
By Michael Roley
The Peoria Sluggers Gold 16U team tore the cover off the ball Wednesday morning.
Well, maybe not literally. The softballs appeared to still be in-tact following the Sluggers’ 12-2 win over the Colorado Angels 16U at Waddell Park in Denver.
But figuratively? They certainly did as the team from Peoria, Illinois littered the outfield with hits, including two early home runs while on their way to their second win of the day. And many of these knocks were not soft bloopers just out of the reach of defenders, the Sluggers were living up to their team name, ripping balls into gaps for extra bases and sending sharp singles through the infield.
In their two games Wednesday morning, the Sluggers combined for 27 total runs after a 15-4 win earlier in the morning.
“I definitely think our hitting is our strength,” pitcher Haley Wallace said. “We just make adjustments really fast and if we make an error at one point we just get back up and pick each other up.”
The Sluggers left little doubt as to who was in control from the start. They jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning before many folks in attendance had a chance to apply their sunscreen. Lead-off hitter Jenna Nink ripped a double and came around to score on an error before Aubrie Shore blasted a two-run home run.
It was more of the same in the second. Saylor Marchand had an RBI single and then Nink launched a two-run shot over the right-center field fence to push the score to 6-0.
“It’s always nice (to get off to a good start),” Jayden Standish said. “Jenna Nink has been our lead-off for most of the season and she starts us off every time with a home run or by getting on base. That kind of stuff just gets us going.”
Angels’ starting pitcher Madison Leach found a rhythm in the circle after the second inning, holding the Sluggers’ offense scoreless for four consecutive innings and keeping the Angels within striking distance. The Angels plated two runs in the third and fourth inning, one on a double by Haylee Curry and the other an RBI single from Kristin Ingram to pull the score within four at 6-2.
However, that was as close as they would get before the Sluggers’ offense once again came alive in the top of the seventh. Marchand drove home her second run of the game and then following a walk to load the bases, Quinn Pallardy drilled a bases clearing triple to score three runs and blow open the contest.
The hit parade was then engaged at this point. Wallace then drove in Pallardy with a double in the following at-bat to make it 11-2. Then, Standish, who head coach Renee Gass said has been in “killer mode” recently, ripped another double to give the Sluggers a double-digit advantage.
Kaelyn Leverson started the game in the circle for the Sluggers and tossed three innings before Wallace entered in relief. The incoming sophomore hadn’t pitched a lot during the spring, her coach said. But she was able to get back into the swing of things rather quickly, throwing four innings and allowing just one run. The Sluggers defense made several nice plays behind her, something any pitcher undoubtedly appreciates.
“It’s definitely nice,” Wallace said. “I know if I miss a spot I know they can pick me back up.”
Peoria, Illinois lies in central Illinois, roughly splitting the distance between St. Louis and Chicago. It also sits at an elevation of 500 feet above sea level. Coach Gass said the team came out early to assist in the adjustment to the 5,280 feet Denver sits above sea level.
“Personally, I haven’t had a problem with it other than during warmups when we go for a jog it’s a little tiring,” Standish said. “But during the game, I don’t think a lot of us have had too much of a problem with it.”
And perhaps with the way they have been hitting the ball so far, the thin air has been more advantage than disadvantage.
By Adam Dunivan
THORNTON -- The Mountain West Fastpitch 18U softball team out of Utah is all about attitude at altitude. The team accustomed to playing at 4,300 feet above sea level had no problems adjusting to a "Mile High" altitude last year in the Colorado Sparkler, and so far they've been able to flex their muscles in the 2018 Colorado Fireworks 18 Power Pool Supplemental-Elite division.
On Wednesday afternoon at the Northern Lights fields, Mountain West sent 16 girls to the plate in the first inning of their CB Elite Pool Box Bracket winner's game against OC United-Nester, scored 11 runs and eventually rode that to a 14-6 victory that will send them to the upper tier of double-elimination play starting Friday morning at the Pioneer Park complex in Commerce City.
The team has turned over significantly in just one year, but the expectations are still very high for the rest of the week.
"We come to play, we come to compete and it's all about getting better every single play and every single at-bat, every single inning," said head coach Bryan Bull, whose team produced 15 hits in the win over OC United. "We are a team that's all about forgetting about mistakes and at the same time, if the other team makes mistakes we utilize it and jump on that. We've got a good group of girls."
After going 1-1 on Tuesday with 16 total runs scored, Wednesday's accomplishments by the offense were not at all a surprise to Kylie Baumert, who went 3-for-3 with three triples and five RBI in the second game.
Mountain West needed that hot start after squeaking past USA Athletics-Younger by a 5-2 count earlier in the morning, and it came by way of several solid base hits combined with a couple of uncharacteristic OC United errors.
Baumert was just getting started with her first inning triple at the spacious field they were playing on, and her teammates followed suit as every girl in the lineup eventually scored a run. Megan Bull, Sophia Stoddard, Brooklyn Anderson and Josie Larkin each had two hits in the five-inning, run-rule shortened affair.
"I think because most of us want to play on (in college), we just wanted to come here and get the job done and all want to be here, and that helps so much," Baumert said. "I think we all swing hard and we have a lot of speed, which helps on the base paths. We can turn singles into doubles, doubles into triples.
"Once I saw my hits go past (the outfielders), I pretty much knew I should be able to get a triple if I ran fast enough."
Despite the setback, OC United-Nester could find itself capable of making a nice run themselves starting Friday afternoon. The team entered the winner's game 3-0 mark with a pair of one-run wins, and even in their loss were able to find a spark in the middle innings with five runs produced between the third and fourth innings to cut the score to 12-6.
By Adam Dunivan
THORNTON -- There were very few slip-ups for Gaby Benjamin and the rest of the Firecrackers Brashear/Roth 18U softball team on Wednesday morning.
In fact, one of the only ones made for a light-hearted moment for the team in their 8-3 victory over Lady Hustle Marshall 18 Gold at the Northern Lights fields, part of the Colorado Fireworks 18 Power Pool Supplemental Elite division tournament.
Laughs were shared when Benjamin, the team's starting pitcher, slipped on one of her deliveries in the fourth inning of their CA Box Bracket winner's game -- and holding a 6-0 lead at the time certainly made it more easy for Benjamin to swallow the moment.
"It was a full-count change-up, and I was so ready to strike her out ... I was just like, 'Oh, man'," Benjamin said, still laughing and a bit embarrassed.
Luckily for her team, her change-up as well as that of reliever Catalina Aguilar was pretty spot-on. Hustle (Pleasanton, Calif.) had scored 16 runs in their earlier box bracket win, but Benjamin and Aguilar had some good defense behind them to help limit their opponents to five total hits.
Second baseman Jasmyn Vigilante had a couple of stellar plays up the middle of the field, and the Firecrackers (Lancaster, Calif.) moved on to the Gold Bracket of the division with a 3-1 overall record.
"If we're all playing behind each other we're solid," said Vigilante, who also had three of her team's 13 hits.
"It helped that we scored a lot of runs in the first inning, because when I went out to pitch I felt a lot more comfortable," Benjamin added. "I was getting called for a crow hop, and that made it a little more difficult but I was able to work through it, and I'm glad that Cat was able to have my back. Cat and I ulitlized our change-up today because it seemed like something they were having a little trouble with hitting."
The Firecrackers scored five runs in the first inning, highlighted by Chloe Bahruth's two-run home run to dead center field. Hustle relief pitcher Ayanna Sanchez came in to close out the first frame and held steady through five innings after that, but another two-run home run from Alexa Alvarez in the seventh provided the game's final runs.
Aguilar faced the minimum and allowed just one hit in her three innings to get a save.
Earlier in the day, the Firecrackers outlasted Bombers HTX 18 Gold-Clevenger 10-6. Both of those teams had gone 1-1 in Tuesday's non-bracket play, and Vigilante said she liked how the team pulled through in the late innings after seeing some pressure put on their early advantages.
"We started off on top at the beginning and when it came to the middle of the games it felt like we lost it a little bit, but we knew if we stayed confident and played our game we could still pull it out," Vigilante said. "Just stay calm."
The Northeast Hurricanes were looking for a way to shake off the cobwebs after their near cross-country journey from Salisbury, MA all the way to Denver, CO. After a 5-5 tie against Team TFS – Elite on Wednesday morning at Tepper Field, the Hurricanes found their offensive groove in a 10-6 victory over the Pacific Coast Predators.
Trying to shake out the funny taste a tie leaves in your mouth, the Hurricanes hit the ground running in the first inning with a two-run home run from Nicole Basil. Northeast would keep its foot on the pedal, though, sending both Autumn Stevens and Penelope Ayotte across the plate, taking a commanding 4-0 lead after one.
“This group really responded well all day,” said head coach Dennis Bruce. “They were aggressive right off the bat, which is what I wanted to see.”
Starting pitcher Raegan Kelly worked quickly in the first couple of frames giving up just one run on two hits. It wasn’t until the Predators loaded the bases twice in the third inning that the game picked up intensity on both sides.
“I always know that I have great teammates behind me,” said Kelley. “When things got a little tight, I kept reminding myself that my team was going to make plays.”
Three runs came across in the third before the final out was recorded, tying the game at four.
Eager to ignite a rebuttal to the Predators’ three runs, Kelly came through with an RBI single of her own as part of a three-run half-inning, giving the lead back to the New Englanders, 7-4.
“Their pitcher did a nice job mixing up inside and outside pitches,” said Kelly. “I just waited for the outside pitch to turn it the other way.”
Pacific Coast added a run in both the fourth and fifth innings. Leading by just one, 7-6, the Hurricanes once again were sparked by Kelly, who delivered a double and came around to score on a monster three-run home run from Autumn Stevens.
“It was the fourth time I had seen that pitcher,” Stevens said. “I was expecting something outside on her first pitch. Fortunately for me, it was exactly where I like it.”
After equaling its largest lead of the game at four, the Hurricanes leaned on Kelly one last time to close out the contest. Bookending her performance with her second 1-2-3 inning, Kelly sealed the victory, 10-6.
On the afternoon Kelly went six full innings, gave up just three earned runs on five hits and struck out seven. She also contributed three hits, including a double, three runs scored, an RBI and two stolen bases. Not too shabby for an incoming high school junior with a 4.0 GPA seeking a major in chemical engineering.
“She’s such a cool customer on and off the field,” said Bruce. “We know we’ll get the best out of here day in and day out.”
The Hurricanes head toward box bracket play Thursday morning with a scheduled matchup against Vision Elite. While a win and a tie were well worth the effort, they know winning that first box bracket game is all too important.
“We desperately want to start off on the right foot,” said Kelly. “I think today definitely gave us the momentum and confidence that we’ll need tomorrow morning.”
by Kyle Koso
Especially in high-level, professional fastpitch, catchers are valued for their ability to provide a calming influence and bring order when there's tension.
That's why Amanda Chidester was particularly chapped at her throwing error in the top of the first inning of Tuesday's matchup in Erie between her Nationals squad and the Scrap Yard Dawgs, part of the bonus programming for Triple Crown's Colorado 4th of July event.
Her errant toss to second base in hopes of picking off a baserunner became the starting gun to a unhappy track meet for the Nationals, as one run came across and another runner advanced to third base. When it was all done, the Dawgs had plated four runs.
But Chidester found swift redemption, smoking a three-run homer over the left field fence in the bottom of the inning, and the Nationals found their footing to eventually claim a 10-8 victory. Monica Abbott, one of the most celebrated Olympic and professional pitchers you can find, threw five innings of scoreless relief for the Nationals, striking out nine batters.
"I was thinking about throwing to third, then I saw her off second ... that moment when you second-guess yourself. That kills me as a player every time," said Chidester, who starred at Michigan. "It got away from me, and in this kind of competition, you can't have those moments. You have to be on top of it, and that should have been two runs, not four.
"That was in the back of my mind, but I do know one of my strengths is my hitting. I wanted to go up there and have a good at-bat; then every came from the top of the lineup getting on, and I was trying to keep it going."
The Nationals ended up scoring seven runs in the first inning, batting around and having the bases loaded before Dawgs reliever Morgan Foley secured the last out. Scrap Yard countered with four more runs in the top of the second, with home runs from Nerissa Myers and Brittany Cervantes the biggest blows.
Needing to come back again, the Nationals pulled ahead 9-8 in the bottom of the third thanks to a sacrifice fly from Valerie Arioto and a single from Taylor Edwards. Kelsey Stewart brought in a nice insurance run in the fifth with her double that plated Haylie McCleney.
Abbott's relief appearance came after a tough outing the previous time the teams squared off, where the Dawgs bats had unusual success. But she was a sopping wet blanket on dreams of a rally Tuesday, running into some friction only in the fourth when Myers and Kayla Winkfield were on first and second with one out.
A quick popout to second and a strikeout ended the debate.
"You want to come in hot. We talk about being up and down in the bullpen, and you want to come in when you're up," Abbott said. "My team needed me, and I got ready as soon as we could. It's such a battle playing this team, and there are no secrets because everyone knows everything (as these teams barnstorm around the country this summer)."
"You may fight hard and come up short, or you may fight and win, but you just can't lose that fight, no matter what. Amanda had a tough play, where the timing was off, but she came back. That shows her maturity as an athlete, to come back and finish the inning, and then come up big mentally and get the outcome of the big home run."
"For her to come back and shut them down like she did, that was awesome. She made adjustments, and it picked up the pace of the game," Chidester said. "Morgan Foley pitched great, too -- sometimes other pitchers get overlooked. That backdoor curve was looking really good."
The teams will face off again Wednesday night at the Christopher Complex, part of the Westminster Festival Night for the week-long Triple Crown fastpitch event.
By Michael Roley
Bend but don’t break.
That was the theme of the day for the El Paso Chilis 14U team as they grinded out two wins on the opening day of the Colorado Sparkler tournament, including an 8-5 victory over the Carroll County Crush (Carrollton, Georgia) at Centennial Field in Loveland Tuesday afternoon.
Things started swimmingly for the Chilis as they jumped out to a 6-1 lead after three innings and appeared to be in control. But that was before the Crush put up a four-spot in the bottom of the sixth to make it a one-run game.
The Chilis were bending and the blood pressure of their supporters was certainly elevating, but they never broke.
Not even when the Crush loaded the bases with one out and put the go-ahead run on first in the sixth. Nor in that same inning when a hectic scene broke out on the base paths. The Crush pushed across one run on a base hit before the go-ahead runner from first found herself in a rundown between second and third.
As this was taking place, the game-tying run from third bolted for the plate, only to be tagged out on a rocket throw that preserved the Chilis’ lead at 6-5.
“This game we came up swinging it early and got a big lead and then we kind of let them hang around and hang around,” Chilis head coach Rick Solis said. “They had a big inning and got back into it. Our pitching kept us in it and then we scratched two runs across there late that gave us that cushion we needed.”
Chilis pitcher Jasmine Olivas threw all seven innings and was able to keep the Crush’s bats in check most of the afternoon. And when things got tense, and tough outs were needed, the incoming freshman came through.
After walking two consecutive batters to load the bases in the sixth, Olivas got a much-needed strikeout for the second out before the bedlam erupted on the bases and the Chilis tagged the tying run out at the plate to avert any further damage.
A bases loaded jam with one out certainly wasn’t ideal, but Olivas has no qualms about pitching through adverse situations.
“I love being in those tough situations,” Olivas said.
The Chilis lineup showed tremendous balance throughout the game. Hits and runs batted in were coming up-and-down the order. Sydney Saenz kicked things off with an RBI single in the first before Michelle Balcazar ripped an RBI double that put the Chilis ahead 3-0.
Brianna Garcia drove in two runs, including a critical triple in the seventh that extended the Chilis lead to 7-5. Mia Perez drove her in during the next at-bat to tack on another much-needed insurance run.
With everyone contributing at the dish, that can make for an enjoyable day and is almost infectious in the dugout.
“You want to keep your team up but you also want them to keep you up,” Balcazar said. “For them to keep hitting the ball is really nice to see and it just keeps rallies going and keeps everyone’s spirit up.”
The Chilis, who are making their debut at the Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks, have a cool backstory to how they landed their team name. It was inspired by a character in a Mexican TV show named La Chilindrina, which is their full team name. They go by ‘Chilis’ for short and the logo is fittingly a combination of the character from the show with a chili and a ‘C’ letter.
It’s a relatively new program, getting their start with a T-Ball and 8U team in 2012 and have expanded to seven teams now. This 14U team is their oldest squad and is now 2-0 after the first day and is sitting nicely atop the Pool X standings.
So far, they’ve enjoyed their time in Colorado and have been impressed with the format of the tournament. And of course, having two wins under their belts helps as well.
“Everything is first class from the communication leading up to the tournament to just making sure everyone knows the itinerary and where everyone is supposed to be,” Solis said.
"So far, especially when you get two wins on the first day, it’s definitely something we’ve enjoyed.”
Following a 13-0 defeat at the hands of the Indiana Magic, Vendetta AZ – Kunze needed a spark to regain confidence in the 14u Open Division of the 2018 Sparkler Juniors. An eight-run first inning was just what the doctor ordered as Vendetta cruised past Chandler Pride for its first victory of the tournament, 10-2.
“The difference in the second game was purely energy,” said head coach Wes Kunze. “The girls picked each other up and didn’t let one negative play effect the next. I think we got back to playing our brand of softball.”
After a quick top of the first inning from starting pitcher Autumn Kunze and the Vendetta defense, the offense looked eager to jump on the scoreboard after failing to tally a run in the opening game. A lead-off single from Trinity Moreno sparked an effort that would see eight runs cross the plate, giving the Arizona-based squad a commanding lead.
“I think we all wanted to deliver for one another in this game,” said Shawna Kim, who batted in two and came around to score in the opening frame. “I certainly wanted to give it my all and give my best effort for my teammates.”
Autumn Kunze returned to the circle now pitching with a sizeable lead. With a stellar defense behind her, Kunze’s confidence continued to grow and as the game wore on.
“It’s a lot of fun playing with these girls behind me,” said Kunze. “I had a couple of good pitches working for me today, and it helps to know that my defense will back me up when teams put balls in play.”
Kunze’s highlights weren’t limited to the circle on Tuesday afternoon. In the third frame, her walk drove the first of two RBI Kunze would collect. At the plate, the young right-hander finished 1-1 with two walks, two RBI and two runs scored.
“They were throwing a ton of strikes up there,” explained Kunze. “I told myself that if I made good swings, something good was going to happen.”
Defense ruled the third and fourth innings for both sides. In the fifth, however, the excitement kicked back into high gear. The Pride hit back with two runs of its own to cut the lead to five, 7-2.
When it came time for Vendetta to return to the plate in the bottom half of the frame, a focused and driven Vendetta team sealed the victory with three runs on three hits, with the game-clinching RBI arriving by way of a Lauren Webb triple.
“This was the first national tournament for most of these girls,” said coach Kunze. “I think we got some of those first-game jitters and nerves out of the way.
“This afternoon, the girls came back with a great effort. If we’re just as lively and energized going forward, I think we can play with any one of these teams.”
Vendetta rightly earns themselves a day off for a little rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. They’ll return to the diamond for two more pool play games on Thursday before bracket play in the 14u Open Division begins on Friday.
“This week will be about keeping up the energy, but especially the positive energy,” said Kim. “If we can do that, I think we’ll get out to a great start in games like we did this afternoon, and hopefully have some more success.”
By Kyle Koso
Changes in college recruiting rules for girls fastpitch players, and a widespread belief that kids who were barely teenagers had to face needless stress just as they were learning how to play, has the chance to improve the experience of young players going forward.
While the rules are sorted out, the committed athletes will still want to get better and want to know what coaches on the college level look for when it's time to sign. Awareness, skill improvement, mental toughness and good old-fashioned conversation were then the priorities as Triple Crown Sports presented its Early Identifier Camp on Tuesday, beginning with 248 players ranging from ages 11-13 in action at the Skyview Complex in Colorado Springs.
The group was whittled to 64 players who took part in Tuesday's Elite Camp later that day in Westminster. The JUCO and NAIA coaches who were working the morning session selected the players who advanced; energy and excitement at Skyview was boosted with the sight of several Scrap Yard Dawg professional players running the drills and offering encouragement.
"This is to engage to younger kids, and to give them a look at what professional softball is all about. You can feel what recruiting will be like and what a showcase will look like; we give feedback as players who have been in it and have played at the schools they are looking at," said Lauren Haeger of the Dawgs, who played on an NCAA-title winning team at Florida and is the only players in NCAA history to win 70-plus games as a pitcher while also hitting 70-plus home runs.
"When I was 12, I was playing 27 different sports, just wondering what high school I'd go to. It's cool they have the opportunities like this; there is pressure, but you have to remember to do this for fun, because it is not a forever thing. They are good listens, and they are working hard and hustling."
"It's such an experience to begin with - I'm glad for a chance to get the exposure and learn more about all the necessary tools. Not many girls get to do this, and that's why it's such an amazing thing," said Malea Yoxsimer of the Colorado (Parker) Peak Athletics. "Days like this can build up the pressure a little bit, with all the eyes watching. It adds another factor because they aren't just watching how good you are, they are watching how you handle it, and if you are a leader.
"My fielding was OK; there weren't enough outfielders, and I usually play infield, but I thought, ok I'll get out there. It was a setting I'm not usually in, but that was all right. I definitely think I can improve in a lot of different areas."
Going in, the players knew that showing respect and shaking hands would go a long way in telling the Dawgs and college coaches about maturity. The Selling Group had a presentation on "Building a Championship Mindset" which gave the players a chance to consider fresh ways to deal with pressure, success and failure.
Players could also take comfort in knowing the coaches and ex-college stars were there because they want the game to improve and be a force for good.
"I've been with Triple Crown for 15 years or so, and they trust me to come out and evaluate some younger kids. This is for us, way too early to be offering scholarships, but it's neat to see the talent and help them in the process, what they can expect in the next few years," said Pat Reardon, head coach at Central Methodist University in Missouri. "You've got kids from all over the country; the fundamentals they know and how they pitch is pretty impressive. I've heard them talking in between saying they are nervous, but they are good about being attentive and doing what the coach is asking."
"I was looking to meet a lot of great people and have fun with them while we are out here," said Jayden Sick of the Arizona HotShots. "I'm working on fielding, learning how to go backhand and getting the ball to second ... I feel good about my hitting."
By Adam Dunivan
Being a pitcher by trade, OC Elite 16U rising sophomore Brooke Owens usually pays particular attention to the tendencies of other team's batteries. The interactions between pitcher and catcher may go unnoticed sometimes, but Owens saw it as a chance to come through as a hero of sorts in Tuesday's opening day of the Triple Crown Colorado Sparkler tournament at the Big Dry Creek Fields.
Owens, head coach Robert Diaz's ace, was responsible for the game-winning run over Team TFS STX (League City, Texas) in the sixth inning, stealing home plate in walk-off fashion on a routine post-pitch throwback to the circle, giving OC Elite (Irvine, Calif.) a hard-earned 6-5 victory and a 2-0 start to the Sparkler.
"I just saw an opportunity and I took it, because the catcher was just not even looking at third base," Owens said after scoring the winning run, which helped ease the pain of the team coughing up a 5-1 lead. "She threw back, and I went."
"That play was not even my call," Diaz said. "That was all Brooke Owens, who said 'Coach, I think I've got this' when she saw the pitcher keep turning around (after every pitch). She read that, and took it. It was a nice way for her to step up for the team. They did a nice job, and we're ready for the full Sparkler to get going."
Diaz's team, comprised of mostly uncommitted juniors and sophomores, has enjoyed a fine start to the season coming off a 2017 14U USA Softball National Western championship, and the hot start to the TC Sparkler was just what Diaz was hoping for. Earlier in the day, the team secured a more dominant 10-2 win over Extreme Elite 16U Freshmen.
With the first day's games coming against teams from a different pool -- OC Elite is competing in Pool AC -- the second game of their morning allowed a lot of girls to get in the game and gain some confidence.
Owens hit throughout the second game, but didn't come in to pitch until the fourth inning and eventually had to return to the circle in the sixth after being spelled by Olivia Lee.
After watching Team TFS STX battle back in the final three innings and tie the game at 5-5 in the top of the sixth with consecutive run-scoring singles from Janae Mitchell and Mariah Gaytan, Owens led off the bottom of the sixth with a solid single to left field. Jackie Diaz successfully bunted her to second base with two outs, and backup catcher Grace Currie singled and got to second on the throw. Sara Collazo was up to bat when Owens stole home.
OC Elite had nine hits, including a two-run double for starting catcher Jasmine Gonzales. Lee went 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI.
"It helps us get our confidence up, and we just need to keep doing what we're doing and we'll be good," Owens said. "Our first game was definitely better than our second, and we just need to play up to our level and not down to other people's levels."
"We have confidence in each other and all know what we're capable of doing," Gonzales added. "We just keep working and going until the end. We trust each other and that's what makes us a good team."
Team TFS STX, which are already qualified for the USSSA National Championships, tied the game at 1-1 thanks to a Haley Brumrich home run in the second inning and finished with nine hits, as well.
By Michael Roley
Things were looking bleak for the Texas Glory-Sanders 14U squad after three innings in their second game on opening day of the Colorado Sparkler Juniors tournament at Barnes Field in Loveland.
The Glory trailed the Oklahoma Bombers 03-Ray team 6-0 after the third inning and didn’t have a baserunner reach in the first several frames.
But ultimately, that slow start didn’t matter as the Glory found their groove in the second half of the contest and staged a furious rally, topped off with several big home runs to win 9-7 and move to 2-0 in Pool C play.
The Bombers went up early in the top half of the first inning on an RBI double before a four-run third inning put the Glory in a 6-0 hole. Afterward, players said there was no worry or panic on their end at that point. There was plenty of softball left to be played and once the bats started clicking, there was no looking back.
“We got more pumped,” said Grace Ahlborn, who hit a clutch home run in the fourth. “We got on a run and just kept it up.”
Head coach Blake Sanders said his team changed their approach at the plate after the third inning and began putting together better at-bats. Arguably, it made all the difference.
“We had more disciplined at-bats,” he said. “It was more being patient, letting the ball get deeper. We were a little too much out in front, the ball coming off the end of the bat. Sounds like they listened and let the ball travel where it needed to and that took care of it.”
After seeing their first 10 batters retired in order by the Bombers starting pitcher, the Glory’s Madeline Robinson kicked off the rally with a double. After a Bombers error put another runner on, Ahlborn stepped to the plate and completely flipped the momentum of the game with a 3-run shot to bring the score to 6-3.
Glory pitcher Danielle Gillean settled in nicely in the circle in the fourth, only allowing one run on four hits over her last three innings of work, including a key one-two-three fifth inning.
The Glory continued their comeback in their half of the fifth, jumpstarted by a lead-off double by Andria Houser. Then, a two-run blast with two outs from the Glory brought the deficit to just one at 6-5.
Following a Bombers run in the sixth, the Glory still had a little bit of comeback magic left in their half of the inning. After a lead-off double, Ahlborn brought the lead to within one with her fourth RBI of the morning on a double. Then during the play, an errant Bombers throw trying to get Ahlborn at second sailed into right-center field, allowing Ahlborn to score the tying run on a wild sequence of events.
The sixth inning momentum continued for the Glory as they loaded the bases. That set the stage for the starting pitcher Gillean, and she delivered a two-run single to put the Glory ahead once-and-for all at 9-7.
The Glory won their first game of the day Tuesday, a 4-1 victory over All-American Sports Academy 2022 and are now in favorable position with a 2-0 record in Pool Play on the first day.
“It’s a good start and we’ve got the momentum on our side,” Sanders said. “Now if we can keep it and take care of business on Thursday and go 4-0 and go into brackets, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
By Thomas Hoffman
The long, arduous road to the 14u Power Pool Championship at the 2018 Sparkler Juniors began Tuesday at Nelson Farm Park. For SoCal Athletics-Limo, the key to the week and to Tuesday morning’s pool play games was patience. After an opening, 12-5 victory over the St. Louis Chaos, the Athletics rode its momentum to a 13-7 win over the NW Batbusters.
“We were definitely sluggish to start off today,” said head coach Michael Limosnero. “That can happen in a tournament like this, but I was happy with the way the team rebounded, made adjustments and had each other’s backs.”
Before SoCal even got a chance to bat in the bottom of the first inning, they trailed 3-0 thanks to a pair of RBI singles from Grace DeSota and the Batbusters’ pitcher Katie Fodge. It wasn’t until the bottom of the third inning when the Athletics had a chance to cut into the lead.
“I think we were able to wear (Fodge) down a little,” explained Jessica Kim. “By the time I got to the plate, I was simply looking to capitalize on something down the middle.”
Kim was gifted just the pitch she was looking for. With Ashley Corpuz already on first, Kim rocketed a ball over the left field fence, bringing SoCal within one, 3-2.
“After (Jessica’s) home run, we could sense the momentum turning in our favor,” said Emma Haygood, who delivered a single, double and two RBI as part of an eight-run bottom of the fourth inning that propelled the Athletics in front, 10-3.
“That’s a great characteristic of this team,” said Limosnero. “They always stay positive, believe in themselves and believe in each other.”
The Batbusters weren’t about to go away quietly, however. Anna Lucas showcased her dynamic speed to kick-start the top of the fifth inning, reaching on a bunt and coming around to score thanks to two stolen bases and a passed ball. In total, the Northwest natives conjured together four runs, shrinking the gap, 10-7.
Undeterred by the Batbusters’ mini-rally, SoCal clamored back with three more runs in the bottom half of the frame, two of which coming on an Ashley Corpuz triple.
Taking over for Oshiana Schenkelberg in the fifth inning, Marisa Salazar finished off the Batbusters in the sixth, racking up two more strikeouts to finish with four in two innings of work. The quick half inning solidified the Athletics’ second win in as many games, 13-7.
“I’m really happy with all of our pitchers,” said Limosnero. “They’ve all done a solid job keeping us in games and shutting teams down when it comes time to close them out.”
While the SoCal coaching staff eyes more adjustments as the week progresses, the players are happy to enjoy everything the Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks has to offer.
“I got a chance to play in the All-Star games yesterday, and I think we’re all looking forward to the festivals later this week,” said Haygood.
“You don’t always get a chance to go play against or interact with girls from around the country,” Kim explained. “It’s one of my favorite parts about coming out here.”
SoCal Athletics-Limo will wrap up pool play Wednesday morning against Vision Elite Gold. A win would secure themselves a spot in the 14u Supplemental Power Pool Playoff Bracket, and an opportunity at a championship game broadcasted live on Watch ESPN on Thursday at the Aurora Sports Park.
With the afternoon sun at the Ballpark in Erie asking a bit more Monday from everyone in attendance, the young athletes in motion, and the college coaches directing the action, delivered on their promises.
For the 14u fastpitch girls attending Triple Crown's 14u Elite College Camp, they threw themselves into drills and conversation in a unique four-hour window that put them shoulder-to-shoulder with top-shelf Division I coaches from Arizona State, BYU, Florida State, Nebraska and South Carolina. And those coaches fulfilled their mission, to engage with the future stars of the sport and share insights on how to improve.
The energy level to keep up certainly ran opposed to the theory that kids today lack motivation.
Claire Czajkowski of the Tennessee Mojo 20-21 made the most of her time at the South Carolina's field, scooping up grounders and looking particularly lethal in batting practice.
"I was hoping to get better for my team this week by getting extra reps, and I wanted to put myself in front of South Carolina," she said. "They are an SEC school, and they did amazing this year. I wanted that exposure, and to get better for the games ahead. Most of my (nervousness) I put in the rear-view, but sometimes when you are up there in BP and the coaches are right there, you feel a bit of pressure. But you have to get over it and play.
"Everyone was loose around each other, and it wasn't hard to meet people or talk to anyone. It was easy to get along and be yourself. I thought I did pretty good -- overall it was decent, and in the field I did pretty good."
Over on the Florida State field, Sophia Simpson was slicing and dicing from the pitching circle, on a day that meant a little bit extra because her father played minor league baseball in the Atlanta Braves organization with a member of the Seminoles coaching staff. Playing for the Burgess Bombers out of the Houston area, Simpson said the Elite Camp was the right place to be Monday.
"I felt good. I felt like I did what my job was and I pitched my pitch," Simpson said. "Whenever a big hitter is up there, that's when I have my most anxiousness, but it makes me get more confidence when I face it.
"I'm looking for big schools and ready to go big."
Comfort and confidence on the big stage is appreciated and encouraged in a setting such as Monday's in Erie, as the college programs spent as much time working on the mental approach to the game as anything to do with balls, mitts and bats.
"This is the whole reason we coach the game, is to teach it. I want to learn and grow myself, and I learn from kids of all ages," said FSU's Lonni Alameda, head coach of the recently crowned NCAA champions and who will throw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game next week. "We tried to put them in as many pressure situations as we can, and then address it. 'Are you feeling uncomfortable right now? Good.' We want to get you comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
"We brought them together and asked, what's happening here, and they said the tempo was fast. Well, we said that's what happens in games. How do you slow it down? Let's learn this together, let's share what we've learned with you guys at a young age, so when you do get to that level, the game grows and is better."
With players and parents lining up to say thank you to the coaching staffs at day's end, the Elite Camp looked like a wise use of a summer afternoon.
"It's a great opportunity to come out and share the same we love. We were all once in those shoes, and it brings back a lot of memories ... it's the reason we each," said Arizona State head coach Trisha Ford. "Pressure is a privilege; you're out here and you want to see the kids who can elevate their play in those conditions.
"They weren't looking at (my generation) when we were 14. Softball overall has gotten better at a younger age, and they are developing and working on the skill set at a much younger age. For us, we are fortunate to be part of this great sport."
Championship games aren’t scheduled until Sunday at the 2018 Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks. That doesn’t mean players missed an early opportunity to showcase their skills in front of college coaches, though.
Monday afternoon through the evening, more than 1,000 14u All-Stars representing almost every team in this year’s Sparkler Juniors field took to Barnes Softball Complex in Loveland for one-of-a-kind All-Star Games. The unique event allowed these stellar athletes to take full advantage of a little warm-up before more competitive games later in the week and maybe more importantly, an opportunity to demonstrate their skill sets with a myriad of college coaches on hand.
“I’m just so thankful that I was afforded this opportunity,” said Madison Redinger of the California Yard Sharks. “These games were so much fun to play in, and I can’t imagine where else I would get this kind of experience.”
High-quality softball is not the only attention-drawing aspect for the droves of colleges that attend these all-star games year after year. Each individual team is led by two coaches representing different universities from almost every division, allowing even further hands-on interaction between coaches and players.
“If you’re a college softball coach at any level, you can’t miss these games,” said Howie Smith, who heads the program at Dodge City Community College. “A lot of the time, I get to see kids that I would not have even had a chance to look at.
“Located in Kansas, I rarely get the opportunity to get to know anyone from the West Coast or the East Coast. To be able to get a look at a kid from North Dakota or California or Arizona is an opportunity that I don’t take for granted.”
While these games feature some of the best athletes from each team, it’s not entirely on softball that players and coaches direct their focus.
“How you carry yourself on and off the field is one of the biggest things I learned today,” explained Addie Mettler of Firecrackers NorCal. “If you make a good play or a bad play or even if you’re just walking to your car, college coaches are always watching.”
“We’re always looking for a reason to cross a player off our list,” said Kasey Hunt, the assistant coach of Benedictine College. “Sometimes in these games, we pay more attention to how a player reacts after making a play than the play itself. We certainly like talent but we’re recruiting the personality of a player just as much.”
After six full innings of highlight-reel play and couple of newfound friendships, players and coaches sat down for a little debrief and time for questions from the young stars beginning their journey to the next level.
“These kids are four years away from making a major life decision,” said Smith. “Of course, we would all like to make a little pitch for our programs but at the core, I think we all want to help them answer as many questions as possible so the parents and kids can make the best decision for themselves.”
By the end of the night, both coaches and players leave with a little extra insight into one another. Coaches have a few more names circled, and players depart with fewer questions in their heads.
“It’s why we’re out here,” said Mettler. “I’m leaving tonight with a lot of my questions answered and knowledge that will help me going forward in this process.”