By Eddie Herz
LOVELAND –– With an opportunity to secure their second victory in as many attempts during their first day of Triple Crown festivities, the Corona Angels Martinez utilized a crucial two-out rally to pull away from Diamond Legacy 14u (Texas) atop Centennial Park's softball diamond.
Following a few back-and-forth introductory innings, the California-based Angels clung to an uncomfortable 4-3 edge with two away and no one on base in the top of the third.
Nevertheless, amid a scalding afternoon that certainly proved hitter-friendly, Corona caught fire upon pushing across six runs by the inning's conclusion en route to snatching a 14-4 triumph –– called after four innings in light of mercy rule procedures.
"We did a great job, and I'm super proud of us for winning both games today," Angels' lead-off hitter Mya Allen said. "Heading into today, we just wanted to do what we always do –– come together as a team. And I think we definitely did that."
The Angels surely meshed together as one on Wednesday, particularly throughout the aforementioned, victory-sealing frame –– during which Corona constructed six consecutive hits while convincingly keeping the line moving.
Headlining the rally, Allen wreaked absolute havoc on the basepaths when belting a line drive to right that rolled all the way to the fence following a fielding miscue from Diamond Legacy.
The speedster used her notable quick feet to transform the knock into an inside-the-park three-run home run, extending the Angels' advantage to 10-3.
Once Corona's agile outfielder rounded first base, she turned on the jets with one thing in mind.
"When I saw the ball get away from here I just went for it all," Allen described. "I knew I could score because I'm always using my speed to make things happen. But that play was really exciting."
Overall, the Angels' base-hit barrage included 17 knocks as eight different Corona players reached safely on multiple occasions. Namely, Briana Medina and Lily Mugica each drove home a trio of runs off a pair of hits apiece. While authoritatively spraying the sphere across the outfield grass, first baseman Olivia Gering also amassed three singles.
Still, Wednesday's victory wasn't only about hitting for the California club.
Despite a relatively rocky first inning on the mound, Angels' pitcher Jessenia Moore attained a dominant rhythm thereafter. And she virtually never gave in from then on out.
Specifically, after a two-run dead-center dinger from Bianca Shoquist gave Diamond Legacy a 3-2 first-frame lead, Moore responded by retiring nine consecutive hitters.
Upon cruising to the finish line with stellar defense behind her, the Angels' ace surrendered merely one earned run, four hits and zero walks in total. She struck two Diamond Legacy batters as well –– both looking.
"That first inning was a little tough, and it's always kind of tricky facing girls you've never seen," Moore said. "But I started adjusting and feeling good as the game went on. Just with my catcher, we did our best to fix what we needed between innings. And it worked out for us."
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – Looking down the lineup of the 18u Lady Dukes Lamar roster, and the college commitments jump off the page at you. Arkansas. Florida. Duke. Ole Miss. Michigan. Texas. The list goes on and on. That talent was on full display on Wednesday night as the Lady Dukes knocked off the Lady Magic, 14-5, in the 18u Power Pool Championship game.
“The talent on this team is ridiculous,” Head Coach James Lamar said. “Like anything in life though, there are a lot of talented people in life. But the difference that sets apart the talent from the production is the work ethic and the commitment to excellence. It’s truly amazing to watch them get better and better every tournament. They are playing up to their potential and exceeding expectations.”
The Lady Dukes fell behind 2-0 in the top of the first inning but answered immediately back in the bottom of the inning with a pair of two-run homeruns from Aminah Vega and Julia Lassiter. Altogether, the Lady Dukes had six home runs in the game, a byproduct of the extra work that the team put in earlier in the week.
“We spent so much time prepping for this, we got into town on Saturday,” Lamar said. “We spent two days working at the fields and we paid some coaches to come in and work with us on Sunday. We had Steve Singleton from Texas come in and do a hitting clinic and Olivia Watkins from Boston College to work with our small ball and slapping. As you can see, it paid dividends. Our mental approach is just a lot better.”
After a pair of one-two-three innings in the second inning from both the Lady Magic and the Lady Dukes, the Lady Magic made it a one-run game in the top of the third inning with a solo homerun to make it 4-3, but once again, the Lady Dukes answered quickly. In the bottom of the third inning, Kiki Estrada got things started with a solo homerun, her first of two in the game, to make it 5-3. Nadia Barbary followed that up with a solo homerun of her own to make it 6-3, and then Atalyia Rijo got in on the action with a two-run homerun to right-center field to make it 8-3 and gain control of the game.
The Lady Dukes added three runs in the bottom of the 4th inning, with most of the damage coming from Jolyna Lamar, a 2025 commit, who laced a two-RBI double to make it 11-3. With their backs up against the wall, the Lady Magic scored on a pair of RBI singles to cut the deficit to 11-5, but Estrada ended the game in the bottom of the fifth inning with a three-run homerun.
“This win is great and all that, but it’s over now,” Lamar said. “The thing we need to focus on is we start back up on Friday. We need to get reset and refocused because we can’t be satisfied with the appetizer. This is the appetizer, and now we are ready to get that full course meal starting on Friday.”
The Lady Dukes return to action on Friday and will be looking to back up their dominant performance in the Power Pool bracket. One thing is for certain though, the team isn’t taking any of its time together for granted with this being the last summer that the team is together before all the players head off to their various colleges.
“It’s like watching your baby take their first step, that’s what it feels like to me as a coach,” Lamar said. “I want to send them off the right way. I look forward to seeing them play this time next year playing in the regionals and super regionals and college world series. For me this is a special moment. I can’t even quantify what it means to me to watch them go on to the next level.”
by Kyle Koso
AURORA, Colo. — One tip regarding the Arizona Storm-Captain 16u squad — keep an eye on the top of the batting order.
The first three batters in the lineup for the Storm for Tuesday’s 16u Power Pool game at Aurora Sports Park dominated early, going 7-for-7 and scoring six runs to build a lead against the Alabama Thunderbolts-Sherman. Those runs held up after a Bolts rally, with the Storm heading to the hotel with a 7-5 victory.
Storm starting pitcher Kaitlyn Tso threw three innings and then came back in the sixth for the final two outs after the Bolts had scored three runs in the frame.
That bit of drama may have been rooted in the Storm’s hope to get some the reserves into the action, but either way, the roster will always have a fighting chance with Faith Kroening (triple, three runs), Raegan Holtorf (three hits, two runs, two RBI) and Makenzi Padilla (three hits, a home run, four RBI) setting the table.
“We came into this game really prepared for the competition we were going to face. We were able to get going and score some runs,” Padilla said. “I think we are ready for this.”
“I know they can hit, and when they do their job I do mine in the circle. I just stayed calm (in the sixth inning); whenever the coach needs me I’ll go backing and do my thing,” Tso said. “We have players who can hit, a good pitching staff, great catchers, and the defense is amazing, too.”
Padilla hit a three-run homer to dead centerfield in the first inning; Bolts pitcher Ryley Harrison seemed determined to right the ship, striking out three in a row to end the frame and then homering herself in the bottom of the first to make it 3-2.
In the second, Holtorf fought through a long at-bat that easily hit double figures in pitches to nail a run-scoring single, and Padilla drove her home with a single as well, making it 5-2.
“Having Faith hit above me kind of helps, she’s an awesome leadoff, and we like to jump on certain pitches early in the cont,” Holtorf said. “That helps us a lot; we see each other’s at-bats and can work off each other. It got little shaky at the end, but Kaitlyn can go in there and just punch pitches right in the zone. We were able to get out of it.”
Two more runs for the Storm made it 7-2 after four; the Bolts made it interesting by taking advantage of a walk, passed ball wild pitch and an error — a double from Emily Chandler made it 7-5. Tso closed the door with an infield grounder and a foul-out near third base.
“I think you’re always hoping your team will get better and better, and I would hate to put any limits on them or begin to imagine they’ve maxed out,” said coach Steve Captain. “We’ll continue to push them; be better every game and take no one for granted, because every team here is solid.”
by Kyle Koso
AURORA, Colo. — For softball players hoping to set sail and land with a top college program someday, there’s logic in anchoring their skills to prepare for the trek.
Broadly speaking, that’s what drives two wildly popular offerings from Triple Crown Fastpitch ahead of game play at the Colorado 4th of July event. College Camp Sunday and Elite College Camp Monday in 2022 saw droves of athletes putting in their time in sessions lasting four hours or more at Aurora Sports Park, with college programs and their coaching staffs running the drills and sharing the thoughts designed to make players more prepared for a post-high school future in the sport.
On Monday, Notre Dame ran its camp, piloted by head coach Deanna Gumpf and her assistants. From high-tempo workouts to conversations about reaching and thriving in the college game, Gumpf’s group dug into the task of providing a valuable experience.
“We want them to have the opportunity to show us what they have; if there are fundamentals we feel we can help with, we absolutely say something. We also want to be encouraging,” said Gumpf, who has run the softball show in South Bend for 21 seasons. “The more they love the game, the better they play. When we set up this camp, it was all about seeing them in as many game situations, with some pressure, as possible. Lots of reps — these are kids who want to be recruited by us, so we want them to have the opportunity for us to see them in action. We got them as busy as possible, kept them working, and added a bit of pressure.”
Sharing space with an elite academic and athletic outfit like Notre Dame was a highlight moments for players such as Matea Muraoka and Sophia Peterson.
“What bright me out here today, Notre Dame is a high academic school and they had a phenomenal season this year — that caught my attention and is something I’d love to be a part of in the future,” said Muraoka, 15, who plays for the Batbusters 18 Gold and hails from Stockton, Calif. “So I came out hoping to get a little bit better than when I started. Today exceeded my expectations; it was run very professionally, quick pace, just how I like it.
“I just got moved up to the 18’s, so I’m trying to find consistency with my hitting, figure out the adjustments I need to make coming from a younger team. I use the girls as motivation; I don’t think I compare myself, but I want to make sure I have an edge playing along some the best girls in the country, and that will push me to work harder when I’m home, being the scenes, when no one else is there.”
Both Muraoka and Peterson hit long home runs during drills at the Notre Dame camp, and both were determined to leave the camp with no regrets.
“I want to play D-I; I want to be one of the best. I work very hard and want to show that,” said Peterson, 15, who plays for the Lady Hornets and lives in Ashland, VA. “I loved the camp — I thought it was well run, and I loved that you could showcase your defensive and offensive side, and pitching, which is my focus. It’s something I would do again.
“I want to play the best competition I can. You know, you come to these camps and you see girls that definitely have an edge athletically, so you want to showcase yourself and show you can compete.”
THE CASE FOR CAMPS — Gumpf stayed and talked with every player who lingered after the Notre Dame camp, posing for pictures and fulfilling the mission of connecting with those who’d taken the time and expense to jump into the mix.
“That’s why I love these camps in Colorado, and we were talking about this with the NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association), that this is a wonderful opportunity to continue growing the sport. The amount of people who are out here and want to get better, who want the opportunity, what Triple Crown has done here is amazing. We are huge fans. We’ve not only seen great talent, but we get to new out here and show what Notre Dame is all about. It’s a win-win. I’m so happy with how it’s gone, and it makes us want to come out here early. Good talent, you get to know the girls a little bit — you guys do it right.
“After COVID, there was a lot of frustration because people felt like their opportunities to get recruiting had tightened up a little, but I feel we are coming back around again. We’re on track, and we want to dig into these next (graduation) classes — hey, there are opportunities galore right now, so let’s go take them. The players (who got an extra year) just have one more, so let’s go.”
By Courtney Oakes
Lily Holtje had big power goals for herself in the power department as her Florida Impact U18 team began play in the Colorado 4th of July tournament.
The hard-swinging Florida Impact catcher hoped to hit two balls over the wall for coach Pat Affrunti’s team for the week, but she can revise her hopes in light of the opening day Tuesday.
Holtje homered twice during a 15-2 victory over the St. Louis Chaos Mazzola at Highline Park to cap a day in which she and teammate Briana Neal had three round-trippers each and the team had a total of eight during a 2-0 start to 18U Supplemental play.
“I already passed my goal of two home runs in one day,” said a smiling Holtje, who was 3-for-3 in the final game. “I just want to keep hitting them, working with everybody and having fun.”
Affrunti’s team had all sorts of fun at the plate against the Chaos (1-1), especially during a top of the seventh inning that saw the Impact pound out 11 hits and score 10 runs to break open a three-run game.
First came the execution, as Jesiana Mora singled to open the inning and Brianna Lyall and Hannah Harper followed with well-placed bunts that vexed the St. Louis defense.
Then came the power, as Neal hammered a ball over the fence in straightaway center for a grand slam, which was followed by a second solo shot for Holtje. Six more hits followed as Harper and Lily Bridges each knocked in two runs with base hits as the inning ended with 14 hitters coming to the plate and 10 crossing it.
“That was execution,” Affrunti said. “When we called the bunt, they got it down and created havoc. When they were told to swing, they looked for balls down and launched them. They aren’t used to the Colorado air. We hit eight home runs today, which is a lot for them.”
One player that did not hit a home run — but would have liked to — was Mora, who fell only a longball away from hitting for the cycle. The shortstop and leadoff hitter doubled to open the game, singled in the third inning and tripled to open the fifth inning, which gave her two at-bats to swing for the fences.
Mora took a couple of big swings, but dropped in singles in her first two at-bats on a five-hit day in which the Florida Atlantic University recruit scored four runs and made some outstanding plays in the field as well.
“I think I tried (to swing for a home run) twice, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” Mora said with a laugh. “After a couple of at-bats, they tried to pitch me in different places, so I was adjusting to that. …As a leadoff hitter, it’s always going through my head to just get on base.”
Mora did her job as she made it to at least third base in all five of her times on base and scored four times in addition to stealing a base and driving in a run. Neal, Ainsley Perdicanis and Maisi Sigler had two hits apiece.
Four Impact pitchers — starter Gwendolen McGinnis, Harper, Chloe Rayner and Charley Butler — limited a St. Louis team that scored 10 runs in its opening win over So Cal Choppers Ashley to six hits and single runs in the third and sixth innings.
Leadoff hitters went a combined 8-for-8 in the game, as the Chaos’ Abby Ulsas went 3-for-3 and scored a run in the third inning on a hit by Skylinn Pogue, while a solo home run by Abby Harvell in the sixth inning represented the other run.
The path to victory followed exactly the blueprint Affrunti sets out for his team before every game.
“It’s real simple, we play the game the right way and that will usually take care of itself,” he said. “We don’t come in looking for a W, we look to have quality at-bats, make defensive plays and have pitchers hit their spots. If those three things happen, we’ll be OK.”
The Impact have back-to-back games with the Arizona Hotshots Gold-Davis and So Cal Choppers Ashley teams at noon and 2 p.m., respectively, on Wednesday, while the Chaos play the Hotshots Gold at 2 p.m.
ERIE, Colo. – The 14u Power Pool games got underway in Erie on Tuesday, with one game pitting the Atlanta Vipers against the BSC Bengals out of Long Beach, Calif., giving both teams the rare opportunity to take on quality competition from the other side of the country. The Vipers edged out the Bengals, 4-3, to advance to the first-place game of the Box D Bracket for the 14u Power Pool teams.
Both teams struggled to get anything going offensively in the first two innings, with both pitchers looking comfortable and working out of any traffic on the basepaths with relative ease. In the third inning, though, the BSC Bengals got on the board when Renay Chavez drove in a run on a groundball single. Chavez, the leadoff hitter for the Bengals, was productive all day in the leadoff spot, going 3-for-3 from the plate and drove in two runs.
In the bottom of the inning, however, the Vipers would answer. And then some. After a pair of singles and walk loaded the bases, catcher Avary Stockwell stepped up to the plate with one out and looking to seize the momentum back. Stockwell found the pitch she was looking for and laced a hard line drive double into right-center field, scoring all three runs. Following Stockwell, Cecelia Springfield kept the momentum going with an RBI double herself, giving the Vipers a 4-1 lead.
The Vipers displayed patience at the plate and speed on the basepaths and once again loaded the bases, prompting a pitching change from the Bengals. As Bella Settembro entered the game to pitch for the Bengals, the team faced a 4-1 deficit with the bases loaded and still only one out. Settembro stepped up to the challenge and induced a weak ground ball to the third baseman, who got the force out at home, before striking out the next hitter looking and getting out of the inning with just a 4-1 deficit.
The Bengals added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning, one from an RBI single from Chavez, and the other from a passed ball, but couldn’t close the gap.
With the win, the Vipers will take on the Batbusters Spingola Berger, while the Bengals will take on Finesse 14u – Langlois.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. - There is nothing bigger in the youth softball calendar than the Colorado 4th of July (Sparkler/Fireworks) event. This year once again proves that as Triple Crown Sports will welcome over 1,100 teams to Colorado’s Front Range for the event, slated for June 24-July 3, 2022.
Stretching from the northern communities of Fort Collins and Greeley all the way down the I-25 corridor through Denver to Colorado Springs, the 4th of July tournament has rebounded fiercely from the pandemic-related disruptions of 2020 to once again welcome age groups 12u through 18u. The nation’s most competitive and high-achieving club programs will arrive in droves as the TCS fastpitch division puts over 40 complexes and 150 fields in motion.
The event has long been a prized destination for college coaches and programs as they look for talent to fortify their rosters. Showcase games as well as tournament play will put athletes in front of more than 500 coaches; added value comes through a series of camps and clinics directed by the coaching staffs from national D-I powerhouses through NAIA and JUCO programs.
Returning for a second-consecutive year to the 4th of July menu is the TC International Challenge, which kicks off the excitement from June 24-26 at the Christopher Fields complex in Westminster. These 28 teams were built on rosters that give players a unique opportunity to represent their nationalities and will be another recruiting highlight on the schedule.
Tournament officials are gearing up for two powerful convergence moments during the event, on the evenings of June 29 at Christopher Fields and June 30 at Aurora Sports Park. Both nights will feature all-star and power pool games to be broadcast by ESPN 3 and AthletesGoLive, along with multiple vendors, food and merchandise options – thousands of people are expected to attend each location.
College Sports Evaluation will be running a series of camps throughout the Colorado 4th of July event as well as their must-qualify events, which will have top-performing athletes showcasing their skills using sensor data technology while college coaches watch live.
Other key numbers revolving around the Colorado 4th of July event include:
The 12u and 14u Sparkler Juniors brackets will play out in Colorado Springs and north of Denver, respectively. Championship day for 12u is Saturday, July 2, and for all other age divisions is Sunday, July 3.
“We are once again so excited to put on the Colorado 4th of July event,” said TCS fastpitch event director Stephanie Klaviter. “This has become the marquee event on the softball calendar, and we couldn’t be more excited for the turnout this year. We will put all our effort into making this tournament as memorable an experience as it can be for players, parents and coaches.”
“We are pleased to welcome Triple Crown Sports back to our community. There is no question about the significant economic effect that tourism brings, and tournaments such as the Colorado 4th of July add a large boost to our city,” said Juliet Abdel, President and CEO of the Westminster Chamber of Commerce. “Attendees spend dollars in gas, food, lodging and retail. This is pivotal to key areas of job creation, revenue for the betterment of our community’s infrastructure needs and our economy, which will ensure business doors stay open and families are taken care of.”
“Loveland is thrilled to welcome back the Colorado 4th of July tournament for 2022,” said Cindy Mackin Director of Visit Loveland. “We look forward to hosting this event every year in Loveland as thousands of tournament players, their families, coaches and spectators explore the beauty of Northern Colorado and get to experience everything you LOVE about Loveland. The economic impact from an event of this magnitude for a smaller city like Loveland is huge — this is especially true for our hotels, restaurants, shops and local attractions.”
With two days down and three quality wins under its belt, the Puerto Rico U16 team has everything it wanted in front of it.
Coach Willie Viruet’s group followed up a 2-0 opening day at the Triple Crown International Challenge with a hard-fought 5-2 victory over Greece Saturday at Christopher Fields to complete a perfect run through pool play and set itself up for a run at gold Sunday.
Like all teams in the tournament, Puerto Rico came in with hardly any practice time and chemistry mostly formed over Zoom meetings, but has consistently bonded during its winning start and played an outstanding game that was boosted by the music played by its fans for all five innings.
“We gelled pretty quickly, but its a lot easier now,” said pitcher Yessenia Lopez, who pitched the final two innings of the victory. “We’ve had lunches and breakfasts together and we’re constantly together now, so that helps a lot, too. Today it was very smooth and very easy. There’s no nerves, we’re good now. It’s just going out and playing.”
With a lot of the chemistry things worked out in victories over Canada (3-0), Israel (5-4) and now Greece, Puerto Rico has put itself in a position to better the bronze medal it won last year in the first year of the tournament. It is scheduled for a 10 a.m. Saturday game with Italy.
“This group is special,” Viruet said. “We were successful last year winning the bronze medal, but we have different goals. Putting ourselves in the gold medal bracket is really, really important, not only to use, but to our parents and those that are following us on the island. It’s a really, really big deal.”
Much like the Puerto Rico team that is playing well in the U18 bracket, the U16 team has abundant speed and is taking to the coaching staff’s aggressive philosophy.
Leadoff hitter Jasmine Green — who reached base and scored in all three of her plate appearances — and Natalie Brignoni drew back-to-back walks and later executed a double steal with Green scoring as Brignoni stole second.
Maya Soto then drove in Brignoni with a single and went all the way to third base on the throw home, coming in on Kiana Cruz-Flores’ single.
Just like that, it was 3-0 and Puerto Rico had set a tone.
“We’re trying to take chances and force the issue; that’s my style anyway,” Viruet said. “I think it’s important to do in international play. Sometimes they have to make the play. If they make the play, you tip your hat and move on. But I do want to steal bases, bunt and put the defense in stressful situations.”
Puerto Rico’s aggressiveness was costly at times as it had a runner picked off, had another caught stealing and another thrown out at third base trying to stretch a double into a triple. But for the most part, it paid off.
In the end, the first inning rally proved to be enough to hold off a Greece team that came in off pool play wins over Israel (6-2) and Canada (11-3).
It looked like Greece would hang offensively as Leah Jannakos cranked a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning to immediately cut into the deficit, but that would be all it would muster against the duo of starter Sydney Shaffer and Lopez.
Lopez came on after the first hitter of the fourth inning reached against Shaffer and immediately induced a groundball to shortstop Rio Mendez, who started a 6-4-3 double play, which Lopez followed with a strikeout to end the inning.
“It’s a big lift, especially being able to let my defense do it and know you don’t have to strike out three to get out of the inning,” Lopez said. “The double play was really big and a momentum-grabber. It was awesome.”
Lopez — who said she benefited from her older sister calling the pitches, as she does with Lopez’s Florida Gold team that is set to play in the upcoming Sparkler Tournament — struck out three hitters in a row in the bottom of fifth inning as the game came to an end after it reached its time limit.
Puerto Rico added single runs in the second and fourth innings, which were both scored by Green and both in opportunistic situations.
A throwing error with two outs in the second allowed Green to score and she came home one pitch later on a single by Brignoni, who was thrown out trying to take second. In the fourth, Green reached on a fielders choice when Puerto Rico’s lead runner collided with Greece’s shortstop and she came home on Brignoni’s double.
Viruet is looking forward to seeing what is possible on the final day.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good situation, we just have to take advantage of it,” he said.
Added Lopez: “It doesn’t feel real that we could potentially win a gold medal. It’s insane to even think about, but we’ll see. We just have to go out there and play.”
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – Oftentimes, it can take a team a while to get acclimated and for everyone to learn about each other’s’ tendencies. That doesn’t seem to impact 16u Team Polynesia, which had barely spent any time together before coming together for the 2022 International Challenge.
Team Polynesia went 2-0 in pool play on Friday, scoring 27 runs, including an impressive 12-8 victory over Team Italy on Friday afternoon at Christopher Fields.
“I think it is an amazing opportunity and we are just super blessed to be here,” Team Polynesia Head Coach Glenelle Nitta said. “To have everyone from different schools and different states to come together and represent one country, it’s really fun and special.”
Team Polynesia raced ahead with a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning before Team Italy even knew what was happening. Mariah Atnoque got things started for the Polynesian team, lacing a leadoff double off the outfield wall. Jerrell Mailo scored her immediately on a hard-hit ground ball to give them a 1-0 lead.
Team Polynesia batted around the batting order in the top of the 1st inning, with Day-Lee Williams and Kaimi Tulua also recording RBI singles. In the bottom half of the inning, Mina Tala looked dominant on the mound, producing a quick and efficient one-two-three inning with three pop outs that never left the infield.
Team Italy settled down in the second inning though and began clawing back, eventually forcing a 4-3 game going into the fifth inning. With the time limit dwindling down, and Team Italy seizing all the momentum, Team Polynesia knew it needed to come up with a big inning. And it did.
Charlee-Rose Stevens got things started for Team Polynesia with an RBI single to give the team a little breathing room at 5-3. Polynesia loaded the bases as second baseman Taryn Ho, from LK Black Hawaii, stepped up to the plate with one out in the inning. Facing two strikes, Ho battled the Italy pitcher and broke the game wide open with a double down left-center to score two runs.
“I wasn’t in the game from the start, so I just wanted to make the most of my at bat,” Ho said.
Polynesia grabbed the momentum, and after a pair of back-to-back homeruns from Milan Ah Yat and Williams, had a 12-3 lead heading into the bottom half of the last inning.
“Our main objective is just to score one or two runs every inning,” Nitta said. “We are just trying to help our defense and help our pitcher as best as we can. Hitting is very contagious. Once one person gets a hit and gets on, the next person does, and so on, so forth. It’s paid off.”
Italy gave a valiant effort in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring two on a double to right-center field and then bringing in three runs on a 3-run homerun, but the 9-run deficit was too much to overcome, allowing Polynesia to move to 2-0 in the tournament.
“The competition here is a lot more competitive than Hawaii, so it’s been great,” Ho said of the international Challenge. “A lot of the girls on my team, I didn’t know. So, I just love making new friends while playing the game I love.”
Pool play wraps up on Saturday, with bracket play and the championship slated for Sunday. With 27 runs in two games and a sense of familiarity amongst the team, Team Polynesia looks like a contender at the 16u level.
by Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Walking away from a hard-fought contest with a tie may not have been the deepest desire for the 16u teams from Mexico and the USA on Friday, but the result did allow each squad to dream about better results to come.
The 9-9 score out of pool play at the International Challenge saw multiple comebacks and swerves of momentum, backed by the soundtrack of Team Mexico’s boisterous fan section that made Christopher Fields an exciting place to be for this special Triple Crown Fastpitch event in its second year.
In the final moments and with the time limit expired, Mexico reliever Taylor Mediano struck out the last two batters of the fourth inning to preserve the tie, with runners on second and third. Mexico tied the game in the top of the fourth on a two-out home run from Jillian Torres.
“I was just trying to hit my spots, maybe get some easy ground balls, just dome thing on the mound,” said Mediano, who plays for the Wildcats club program out of Orange County, Calif. “We did a great job coming back. This will keep us motived and make sure we press on.”
Team USA jumped ahead 4-0 in the first inning, with Hannah Cornetto (Atlanta Vipers) lashing a two-run homer; another highlight was a double steal that saw Katelyn Kilgore come home for a run. The hot start was very important for the USA, which had been stung by a 15-4 setback to the Philippines in the game before.
“I knew the strike zone was small, but I was looking for pitch to attack,” Cornetto said. “The pitcher looked like she was throwing low and outside in warmups, but I knew she’d have to come in eventually. It was a good game; every time they scored, we came back. And while the defense made some mistakes, we always kept at it and made someplace to help the pitchers.”
The scores sat at 5-1 after two innings, and that’s when Mexico made a serious move, bringing in six runs. Kayla Estrada (Firecrackers Medina/Schneider) had a two-run single in the mix, and Alexia Ramirez (Explosion Sanchez) added a run-scoring double before Team USA made a pitching change.
The Americans kept the faith and scored four runs in the bottom of the third to go ahead 9-7, with the key hit a two-run single from Maddie McSorley (BSC Bengals).
“Today is all about giving people opportunities, and the girls did a great job bouncing back from the first game,” said USA coach Liza Liddell. “Ultimately, we wanted to see who would fight and who has grit, and that’s we look forward to the most.”
In the fourth, Natalie Omahen (Firecrackers Travieso) got a critical two-out walk for Mexico, and then Torres knotted it up with a high drive to right-center field.
“This was great stuff from both teams, a back-and-forth game where both teams made some mistakes, but it was awesome to see both teams fight,” said Mexico coach Steve Montoya. “Both teams deserved to win that one.”
Friday’s opening round saw Polynesia, Philippines, Greece and Puerto Rico go 2-0 overall. Five more pool play games cap the Saturday schedule, with championship bracket action starting Sunday at 8 a.m.
By Courtney Oakes
Westminster, Colo. - With very little time to get to know players, Eve Soto never knows exactly what to expect when her Puerto Rico U18 team takes the field during the Triple Crown International Challenge.
What she saw during two games Friday at Christopher Fields saw pretty well with Soto in her second season coaching the team in the uniquely formatted tournament that features many players who will be in the Sparkler and Fireworks tournaments next week.
Puerto Rico took a U18 bronze medal in 2021 despite not winning any games in pool play, but got off to a 2-0 pool play start this time with a victory over Cuba (4-1) in its opener followed by an 11-6 defeat of the Netherlands that had a weather-related interlude in the late innings.
“Based on my previous experience with all these girls coming from all over the place, sometimes it's hit or miss,” Soto said. “We seem to have a good group that we can count on. A few of them we would love to work with them a little bit longer, but I have to make sure I give all of them a chance to play. This is a unique opportunity, that is the reason for this tournament.”
Soto has intimate knowledge of what it is like to represent her country, as she had an 11-year stint with the Puerto Rico national team and played for the country in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The International Challenge format gives high school players that are born in the United States with family ties another country or countries the chance to try out to make teams that represent those countries.
Andrea DeJesus (who plays with the San Jose Lady Sharks U18 team) applied for selection to the team from Puerto Rico — with that lineage on her father’s side of the family — and has enjoyed her short time with the team, which features players from several states who come together to compete with hardly any practice time.
“To be honest, we only had maybe an hour or hour-and-half to practice together,” said DeJesus, who had hits in all three of her at-bats and scored twice against the Netherlands. “Some of them came back from previous years and they know each other and everyone has gotten along very quickly. I’m happy I chose to do this and got picked. At first I was a little nervous because I didn’t know anybody, but when you are all the same heritage, it’s like a family already. It’s pretty cool. I want to do it again next year.”
While Soto is still learning the extent of the capabilities of her players, one trait is evident and abundant: speed.
It was on full display in the opening inning against the Netherlands, in which Puerto Rico sent nine hitters to the plate, collected four hits and scored six runs, all while taxing the defense with its legs and “running until one of the coaches stops them” according to Soto.
Five different players drove in runs — including a two-run single by Leilaniz Nieves — and DeJesus capped the inning when she broke late from third base and beat a relay throw home with headfirst slide for the sixth run.
Puerto Rico would be stymied by Netherlands pitcher Natalie Vitek for the next four innings, as Vitek began to use an effective change-up to keep it off balance. Meanwhile, Netherlands scored five runs against three Puerto Rico pitchers in the middle innings to make it a 6-5 game.
Though it didn’t figure in the end result of the game, Netherlands center fielder Zariya Anderson (who went 3-for-3 and homered) had the play of the day defensively in the fifth inning. A long pop-up squirted out of the glove of backpedaling shortstop Sienna Mayer, but Anderson backed up and dove to catch the ball before it hit the ground.
Puerto Rico finally came alive again offensively in the top of the sixth as DeJesus ignited a rally with a double that scored Macey Cintron to push the lead back to two runs. Leadoff hitter Luna Taboas struck a big blow later with a two-run single to make it 11-5.
That’s when the field was cleared for 20-plus minutes after lightning was detected in the area.
“During the delay of game, I was in the dugout and my Kansas family was texting me telling me they were watching and how proud they were of me,” said DeJesus, who drove in and scored runs in both big rallies for Puerto Rico.
With the hiatus, Soto replaced Cintron (who had a strong stint off relief) with Jazel Lopez, who surrendered Anderson’s solo home run with the wind gusting, but finished off the game.
Puerto Rico concludes pool play with an 8 a.m. Saturday contest against South Korea (1-1), which will determine where it ends up in the bracket as it chases a medal. Netherlands — which dropped its opener 6-1 to Cuba — has a noon contest against Japan (2-0).
“Usually the second day it gets better,” Soto said. “The players know where to back each other up and all the things that happen in a game, so I think it’s going to be much better for the girls, confidence-wise.”
Villarde provides scenic views for Japan with two long homers vs. South Korea at International Challenge
By Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – Looking out from Field 4 at the Christopher Field Complex, you can get a great look at the Rocky Mountains, and California native Alyssa Villarde probably hopes to check them out someday.
A couple of her hits from Friday probably beat her to it.
Playing for Japan in the second annual International Challenge, Villarde hit two long, strong home runs to dead centerfield in the team’s 18u contest against South Korea, driving in five runs and priming Japan to claim a 9-4 victory to move to 2-0 on the day. Emma Murchison added a three-run blast in the fifth inning, a frame where Japan broke the game open with seven runs.
Villarde’s first home run came in the first inning and put Japan up 2-0; her fifth-inning shot pushed the team ahead 5-2 and gave the roster that welcomed bit of breathing room in a high-emotion contest, with Japan looking to get past last year’s 18u runner-up.
“I wouldn’t say I have a favorite with the home runs; the second one did help my team come back. They’ve been working so hard yesterday and today, and to help them out means a lot to me and makes me happy,” said Villarde, who also homered in Japan’s event opening 5-4 win over Italy earlier Friday. “The Italy game, it made us want to work harder, and it gave us some good motivation.
“This has been a great experience. Being able to meet other people from around the country has been awesome, and everybody’s been so nice, like family.”
After Japan jumped ahead, South Korea worked it back to 2-2 thanks to the bat of Jessica Phelps, who hit a long homer to left in the second inning and doubled in Giselle Lai in the fourth. Japan had a couple threats go by the boards, one on an inning-ending double play.
But that all changed in the fifth. Villarde hit her shot, and Murchison hit hers on the first pitch she saw after subbing into the batting order.
Japan got a nice boost from leadoff hitter Bella Foran (from the Birmingham Thunderbolts), who had two hits and a walk and scored twice.
“It’s definitely different going from travel ball to here and meeting new people; there’s a good bit of pressure in the leadoff spot, but I remind myself to stay calm and relaxed and do what I do,” Foran said. “Get on for my team, anyhow, just help the team.
“Being from Alabama, I don’t know a lot of these girls, but I know some of my teammates were saying we really need to win, and there was a good bit at stake. There were some good rivalries in (action).”
A cluster of hits, walks and errors allowed South Korea to plate two runs in the fifth, but reliever Jayden Nishi was solid in the sixth to secure the win.
“Alyssa is hot – she showed up in the moment and we talked about it, that she is such a smart batter,” said Japan head coach Shannon Mortimer. “She looks for her pitch and is comfortable not swinging the bat until she has to. It was nice to come back and get the win against them. What a great start – got the win against Italy, and in this game we got to play everyone on the roster who is healthy. It was truly a team win.”
Addison Pressley had three hits for Japan as well.
More than 1000 teams are bracketed and ready for action at the 2022 Colorado 4th of July event, set for June 27 - July 3. Find the schedule for your team here.
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