by Alissa Noe
WESTMINSTER — MOJO-AZ Vela may have left the desert, but they certainly brought the heat with them.
On Thursday afternoon at Tepper Fields, during the 18U Sparkler softball tournament, the team from Phoenix brought the fire at the plate early before routing Mid-MO Evolution with a 14-1 final.
The Evolution, in defeat, achieved something no other team had through the Colorado 4th of July competition. They scored on a team that will enter Friday with a perfect 4-0 record. It couldn’t have happened at a better time for MOJO.
“They're gelling at the right time,” head coach Rey Vela said. “A lot of these girls are new to us — half the team is — and they're just family-oriented. We took everybody in at the same time and just became a family real quick. With that happening, that helped us elevate our game a little bit.”
Amid a team of hard-core sluggers, no player stood out more than Haleigh Reed, who homered in each of her two first inning at-bats, including a grand slam, to net six RBI in the first frame alone. She added one more a couple innings later to further dominate the diamond.
The MOJO scored their first run on a catcher error in the bottom of the first, then unleashed Reed. She began her day with a two-run homer over the left field wall, but the bases didn't stay clear for long. The next two batters got on base via singles before Rachel Kates sent them both home on her own base hit.
Bailey Bencs, in the next at-bat, added to the slug fest with her own moon shot to send in two more scores. Not to be outdone, Reed then ended the first frame with a grand slam to give her team an 11-0 edge heading into the second.
“It was definitely exciting. It was something that has never happened before,” Reed said. “I've never had at least two home runs in one game either. In one inning is even better. That was my first grand slam.”
MOJO didn't stop there.
Bencs added to her stat sheet with a two-run double in the bottom of the second to further bury the Evolution 13-0. Mid-MO finally managed to respond in the top of the third with — what else? — a solo bomb from Avery Deprima over the left-center fences.
Reed responded in the bottom of the same inning with an RBI sac fly to make it 14-1.
With the victory, MOJO will enter the next phase of the double-elimination Mt. Elbert bracket as the No. 2 seed on Friday. They've already more than proven their stock among the best teams in the competition, and hope to continue to do so under the watchful eyes of college coaches.
“I tell them to stay within themselves, don't get excited,” Vela said. “Runs will come and it'll happen to us once in a while. Hopefully not, but they've been seeing the ball well, and when one is down, they all try to pick each other up. They say, ‘Hey, you got the next one. I'm going to pick you up now. It's my turn to hit the ball.’”
by Savvy Rafkin
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – For some teams, participating in a national tournament requires traveling to another state. For those based in Colorado, making a showing at an elite event is as convenient as ever.
Finishing up pool play on Thursday afternoon, the PB Outlaws 18A split their games, finishing with an overall record of 1-3 heading into bracket play.
Thursday’s 7-6 win against NW Ambush 18A didn’t come easily for the team. After falling short by one run in the first game, it was time to turn up the heat. The lineup answered the call and put up three runs in the top of the first inning.
The advantage didn’t last long as the Ambush responded with four runs. Refusing to back down from the challenge, another two runs put the Outlaws ahead of their opponent for the final time and lock down their victory.
For the team, the best part about playing in the Triple Crown Sparkler isn’t just the competition. After facing elite rosters from out of state, each win provides a sense of state pride.
“You have to show out for your state,” Outlaws head coach Claude Vigil said. “It’s the biggest tournament in the country and you need to be able to do well for your home state. We’ve been talking to the girls for a while now, and they came out and played well this weekend.”
Though finishing with a losing record in pool play, Vigil acknowledges some difficulties the roster has had to overcome. At the start of the season, weather prevented the ability to play in several vital developmental tournaments.
“We didn’t have any tournaments at the beginning of the season because of the weather,” second baseman Nevaeh Martinez said. “We fell behind. All these teams have been around all season. It’s been hard.”
Heading into bracket play, the Outlaws are focusing on not putting too much pressure on themselves. As an 18U team with college ball on the horizon, creating memories can be just as vital as polishing skills.
“My main goal is to have fun with my teammates,” catcher Georgia Brooks said. “This is one of our last tournaments playing together with this team, all of us together.”
The Outlaws will have their bracket play debut on Friday afternoon at Pawlowski Fields.
By Savvy Rafkin
NORTHGLENN, Colo. – With hundreds of teams flooding into Colorado to participate in the Triple Crown 4th of July event, attention can be hard to come by.
Especially with new competition from national competitors, every team is forced to adjust their strategy to capitalize on their strengths and hide their weaknesses. The 16U Nevada Hotshots Gooch 24/25 found themselves on the losing end of their first game, suffering an 8-3 defeat against the Texas Hooks Elite.
Refusing to be discouraged by an unideal first game and only having under 30 minutes to recuperate, the Hotshots suited up for their second bout against the Finesse West Riemersma at the Northwest Open Space complex Wednesday afternoon.
After the first inning, the Hotshots had only tallied one run. Holding their opponent scoreless at the bottom of the first, it was back to the offensive side, where the lineup went to work and added another four runs to their lead in the top of the second.
With things looking positive and continuing to keep their opponent off the scorecard, the Hotshots sealed their fate after breaking into an unstoppable rally to drive in 12 runs in the third inning and happily walked away with a 21-7 victory.
Every player crossed the plate at least once, though several made it a routine. Catcher Brooke Baxter shined offensively, hitting a single in the first inning, a home run in the second inning, followed by a walk in the third.
“It makes me feel good that I’m performing for my team, and we did well as a team,” she said. “It makes me feel good that my hard work is paying off. I thought (my homerun) was a double, but I was glad it wasn’t.”
Joining her in success was teammate, Layni Noonkester, who hit a grand slam in the third inning and third baseman, Mckenna Timmons, who was only a triple short of hitting for the cycle.
But adding a tally to the win column was not what mattered to Hotshots head coach Joe Gooch. In fact, it was simply a bonus. Leading up to this tournament, Gooch had assigned his players the task of reaching out to college coaches, hoping at least a few would find themselves in the stands.
To his pleasure, he spent a majority of the game chatting with coaches his players invited to the game.
“My girls are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “Last time we were out here, we only saw one coach. The coaches here happened because they are doing all the right stuff. It’s good to see them. Last year when we were here, we went into championship Sunday and only saw a few as we got later in.”
With smiles on their faces and a fresh win in their pocket, coach and players alike are hopeful for what the rest of the tournament has to offer.
The tournament veterans will play their final two pool play games on Thursday with their eyes on the prize and the confidence to take the tournament title.
“I expect to win,” Timmons said. “Get as far as we can, get to championship Sunday, and catch a dub.”
No change in the forecast -- Athletics/Mercado 18 Gold proving its strength, roll to 18u TV Power Pool victory
by Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER, Colo. — At the highest level of softball you’ll see at the Colorado 4th of July event, pitchers need a fair dose of optimism to throw anything less than their hardest offerings.
But when Cambria Salmon is in her groove, batters have to be pessimistic about their chances.
Anchoring her approach in the circle for the Athletics-Mercado 18 Gold by throwing changeups repeatedly and relentlessly, Salmon tied up the Georgia Bombers with seven standout innings of work Wednesday as the Athletics secured a 9-1 victory in the 18u TV Power Pool game at Christopher Fields. Salmon, headed to play at the University of Texas in 2024, gave up five hits to go with six strikeouts and no walks, with one hit batter.
No doubt, with the Mercado offense muscling up behind her with six home runs, Salmon could do her job with full confidence. Even if the Bombers knew a changeup was coming, and there certainly was no mystery about it, Salmon kept the opposition tied in knots.
“In my honest opinion, it’s never been my best pitch. It usually comes around at this time of year, and it feels like this year, it’s really coming around,” Salmon said. “I am a lot more confident in it. I think knowing my pitch caller (assistant coach Mark Smith) knows what he’s doing … I trust him. It helps me have confidence the pitch, and to know it’s there for a reason. If I throw it right, it’ll do what it needs to do.”
The Bombers made real solid contact just twice, a home run from Savanna Bedell (a LSU commit) to lead off the second and a double by Karli Godwin (Oklahoma State).
Meanwhile, the Athletics needed a few innings to dial in offensively, but they rang up runs soon enough. Mya Perez (Texas A&M) led off the second with a homer; Makenzie Butt (Boise State) and Alexa Rosales (Ole Miss) each hit two-run shots in the fourth, and Priscilla Llamas (Ole Miss) and Jada Lewis (Arizona State) went yard in the fifth. Rosales notched her second home run of the night in the sixth.
“We maybe have to go through the lineup once to see the pitchers, seeing what they throw and what pitches we want to hit,” Rosales said. “After that, we’re good. My first one, hit it on the first pitch — I was looking in. Playing behind (Salmon) is amazing; she did really good in the circle and I’m happy to play behind her. I think I had just one ball (to right field) today.”
“(The offense) makes it so much easier. They add insurance runs, and you know that it’s OK if you happen to miss a pitch,” Salmon added.
Athletic coach Dave Mercado said this year’s group is one of his more explosive at the plate and agreed that once they get a look at a pitcher, they are very hard to keep down on the scoreboard.
“The Bombers have good pitching, so it’s going to take us a round or two to adjust to that,” he said. “I like it all with this group — we are pitching well, playing good defense and hitting the ball. Our offense is definitely one of the stronger ones we’ve had, and when the energy is up and we’re swinging like that, it’s tough to beat.”
by Alissa Noe
BRIGHTON, Colo. — There’s just something about the air in Colorado.
On Wednesday afternoon at the Brighton Sports Complex, the Georgia Impact and Northwest Bullets, located in Portland and Washington, proved just why as the Impact soared to a 10-4 victory highlighted by four home runs.
The aptly-named 18U Fireworks Power Pool matchup between the Impact and Bullets provided no shortage of firepower, as each team swung for the fences and conquered them.
“I think we've had a home run in each game,” Impact coach Dylan Casstevens said. “We know how it is up here in Colorado. Balls fly. But the thing is, we stay hard through everything, especially with our approaches. Early in counts, we're looking for one thing and one thing only, until they give us something else to chase after.”
Nobody could touch the numbers that Georgia’s Kelley Feigen threw down, or — more accurately — put up in the air. In her three at-bats, Feigen secured not one, but two home runs, including a grand slam, to drive six runs across home plate.
The Impact started and ended the contest firing on all cylinders. Feigen began her day with a two-run moon shot over the left field wall in the bottom of the first inning. Not to be outdone, Carli Pearson repeated the feat in the very next at-bat with a solo bomb to center field.
“It was my first grand slam ever,” Feigen said. “I've been playing for nine years and never hit one. Just having my team back me up — we all had so much energy in the dugout, which I think helped everybody. In the beginning of the game, I hit one, then one of my best friends Carli hit one back-to-back. I think it just got the energy up and just kept it going.
“I think the thin air did definitely help. I think I hit three today in total. I like Colorado so far.”
That put the Bullets in a 3-0 hole from the very beginning, but they didn’t let that deter them. Slowly, but surely, they chipped away at that lead until it ceased to exist.
In the top of the second, Northwest's Kiley Campos put her team on the board with aggressive base running that set her up perfectly for the passed ball that sent her flying toward home. The Impact ended the frame shortly thereafter, and couldn’t improve upon their now 3-1 lead before the end of the second.
They reserved that extra cushion for the bottom of the third, when Pearson added to her stat sheet with a sac fly to center field to bring Raeleigh Hocker home. They didn’t stay comfortable for long.
Northwest's Kamdyn Hagerty led off the top of the fourth with a home run of her own, in a move that began to turn the tides in her team's favor. Her teammates didn't waste the opportunity.
The next two batters put themselves into a position to score thanks to a base hit followed by a double, which set Lauryn Krick and Alexis Mulligan up perfectly. Both sent runs home, one at a time, to tie the contest up at 4-4.
The Impact didn’t quite like that.
With the hour, 45-minute time limit quickly creeping up on them, Georgia pulled out its shovels. Every base hit, every walk that the Impact secured to start out the bottom of the fourth dug a deeper and deeper hole for the Bullets to try to escape.
They hit paydirt first with an RBI base hit from Jocelyn O'Keeffe, then added to the scoreboard with a walk that sent a runner home. Feigen then capped off her banner day with a grand slam over the left field wall, the ball mercifully landing just short of the foul line.
Now, the Impact will advance to the supplemental pool with a 3-1 tournament record, where they’ll be facing bigger and better teams under the watchful eyes of more college scouts.
“It's really about making adjustments,” Casstevens said. “It's something we haven't done. We didn't do it last game, but we made the adjustments going forward, and were able to see balls out of the hand instead of reading it off the eyes. Hitting is contagious and anything in the dugout you can get going, especially with talking and cheering on your team helps.”
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – After the first day of pool play in the 18u Sparkler division, OC Batbusters – Martin have positioned themselves well, going 2-0 on the day.
“I think we can play a little bit better,” head coach John Martin said. “We were a little bit off today; I think we were just getting used to the altitude and everything. Once we get settled in, I think we’ll be even better moving forward.”
After an exciting 11-10 victory over Building Champions White out of the Kansas City area, OC Batbusters – Martin knocked off Cubs RBI, based out of Chicago, 13-5 in their second game of the day of the Colorado 4th of July trounament.
It didn’t take long for the Batbusters to find their rhythm. After holding the Cubs to a scoreless top of the first inning, the Batbusters scored twice in the bottom of the frame with RBI singles from Destiny Munguia and Nailah Long. The Cubs tied it up with a two run home run in the top of the second and held a 5-4 advantage heading into the bottom of the fourth, but the Batbusters never panicked.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Long once again put the Batbusters out front with a two-RBI single to make it 6-5. Sarah Quiors followed suit with a two-RBI triple to make it 8-5, and a sac fly from Christina Contreras put the team up 9-5.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Quiors once again found a gap to drive in a run, and Sariah Sanchez ended the game with a three-run home run to straightaway center field to push the game to 13-5.
by Savvy Rafkin
LOVELAND, Colo. – When preparing to play in a week-long tournament, momentum is everything.
For the 14u Oklahoma Angels 08, Tuesday afternoon at Barnes Softball Complex gave the team a good idea of what the competition would look like as they try to make a deep run into the Colorado Sparkler Juniors tournament.
The squad already had an advantage over their opponent, the Texas Riptide. Earlier that morning, the Angels stored a 9-2 victory in their scorebook, giving them the rush of confidence to feed their following victory with a score of 8-1.
It didn’t take long for the Angels to get on the board. Driving two runs across the plate in the top of the first inning, they slowly widened their lead over Riptide, never once falling behind their rival.
Head coach Derek Martin wasn’t surprised by this success, as he used the same strategy as in the game earlier in the day: capitalizing on the short game.
“That’s just how we play,” he said. “That’s just our type of ball. We have some power hitters, but we focus on moving base to base. Once we got the lead, I just let them hit.”
Though they lacked to tally any additional runs on the scoreboard until the fifth inning, the Angels continued to add pressure to Riptide, resulting in several two-out rallies. By the top of the fifth, they managed to break through their dry spell and added another two runs to their lead.
The lineup was anything but surprised by their performance. If anything, the game was used to restore faith in their own playing.
“I was in a little bit of a slump and we’re able to hit now, so that’s nice,” utility player Jesse Shuman said. “I just got more confident in myself, and I wasn’t so stressed all the time. I was just worried about hitting the ball.”
With a solid strategy and consistent energy in the dugout, the group is focusing on enjoying the moment, especially as they plan to move to 16u next season.
“Just playing with the girls and having fun (is the best part),” pitcher Addison Dodson said. “We worked hard to get here, and I think we could go far in this tournament.”
The Angels will finish up their pool play games Wednesday afternoon, their first game starting at 8 a.m., followed by a 12 p.m. game.
14u Athletics Mercado Tidd take flight in fifth inning, advance in Sparkler Juniors Power Pool action
by Alissa Noe
ERIE, Colo. — When the best of the best 14u softball teams come out to Colorado for the annual July 4 tournament, players and fans alike can expect the fireworks to fly.
That at least was the case Tuesday morning at Erie Community Park when, in a Power Pool matchup that featured the Miami Stingrays and Athletics Mercado Tidd/Bustamante (Temecula, Calif.), Athletics Mercado overcame an early 1-0 deficit to subdue the Stingrays with a boisterous fifth inning to win 6-1.
All they needed was one hit to make their offense go viral.
Lilly Ann Hauser got the party started in the top of the fifth with a ground rule double to left-center field. The ball, which rolled under the netted fence, allowed Brooklyn Berni to score. In the next at-bat, Charli Calas repeated the feat with a ground rule double, this time to right center, to send two more runs across home plate.
Kharlee Sanders, who stepped into the pinch-hitting role for a sacrifice bunt, instead sent another runner home while making it safely to first herself. That set up Taylor Johns for a perfect hit to center field, this time over the fence, to complete Athletics Mercado’s six-run offensive surge.
“It just has to start with someone,” Johns said. “It felt good. I was just trying to tell myself to get a base hit and then it just happened.”
That bomb provided the perfect ending for a team that had been frustrated by stranded runners all morning. When Stingrays pitcher Sasha Seidel finally gave them the opportunity, they ran with it.
Miami, on the other hand, owed its single run to a base hit from Caitlyn Diaz in the top of the first inning. The Stingrays maintained control of the contest up until that final frame. After one hour, 45 minutes of play, they simply ran out of time to respond.
Now, Athletics Mercado will return to Erie Community Park for the next round of the No. 1 seeds bracket on Wednesday at 8 a.m. Head coach Brian Tidd believes that any of the 60 teams in attendance could win the whole tournament, but his girls are one step closer to making that a reality.
“We put the bat on the ball pretty hard,” Tidd said. “A lot of innings, left some runners on base and just kind of needed to get that key hit. Once we got the one hit, then we kind of opened it up a little bit. We just kind of had to be patient. She was pitching pretty well, so we just had to scramble to get the one to tie it and then kind of opened it up after that.”
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – With more than 1,100 teams from ages 12u through 18u in the pipeline, there’s a massive flow of softball action coming to the Front Range thanks to the Triple Crown Sports Colorado 4th of July event, slated for June 23-July 2, 2023.
Stretching from Fort Collins, Windsor and Greeley all the way down the I-25 corridor through Denver to Colorado Springs, the 4th of July tournament brings a coast-to-coast mix of the nation’s most competitive and high-achieving club programs 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 third year to the 4th of July menu is the TC International Challenge, which kicks off the excitement from June 23-25 at the Christopher Fields complex in Westminster. Brackets at both 16u and 18u have been built to give players a unique opportunity to represent their nationalities and provide another recruiting highlight on the schedule.
Tournament officials are gearing up for two powerful convergence moments during the event, on the evenings of June 28 at Christopher Fields and June 29 at Aurora Sports Park. Both nights will feature all-star and power pool games to be broadcast by ESPN3, along with multiple vendors, food and merchandise options – thousands of people are expected to attend each location. The younger age groups get their own moment to shine on Monday, June 26 with the 12u Player Party in Colorado Springs and the 14u Player Party in Loveland.
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 1, and for all other age divisions is Sunday, July 2.
“So many youth softball programs secure their spot at Colorado 4th of July early, just as we never delay in tackling the work to prepare for the next one,” said TCS fastpitch event director Stephanie Klaviter. “It’s a point of pride to know how many families and teams insist on putting the event on their calendar, and we are humbled by the number of college programs that use the games, clinics and camps to help prepare for their own road ahead. We’re such big fans of the sport and really love seeing how softball continues to grow.”