By Kyle Koso
AURORA, Colo. – With 22 players on the roster, a healthy amount of noise can get generated by the 18u Oro Valley Suncats-Judge when the entire dugout decides to chip in.
And even though it’s one-at-a-time when it comes to swinging the bat, the Suncats can amplify to an impressive volume there, as well.
The Suncats capped off a near-flawless journey in Triple Crown’s Fireworks 18u Power Pool with a top-to-bottom performance in the title game, moving past Tampa Mustangs-TJ by a score of 9-3 on Sunday at the Aurora Sports Park. It took a few innings for the Suncats to get untracked, but bursts of four runs in the fourth inning and five more in the fifth elevated their comfort level and added to the feel of celebration and fun that the team exhibited all afternoon.
Starting pitcher Morgan Leinstock, who is headed to Arizona State this fall, was stellar in the circle, allowing four hits and striking out six, staying out of serious trouble with the Mustangs’ batting order. Madelyn Bejarano (Central Florida) was a terror at the leadoff spot with four RBI and four hits, including a seal-the-deal three-run homer in the fifth.
There’s nothing inevitable about hitting the ball, but the Suncats feel they will usually find a way to create offense.
“I couldn’t be happier for these girls. People don’t know how much they work outside of tournaments and games; we weight train and run together and work real hard,” said Suncats coach Todd Judge. “I’ve had two or three teams a year, and this time I decided to take just one team and put all my efforts there. They have great chemistry.
“They get down, they don’t panic. And I know how good the Tampa Mustangs are; I didn’t get comfortable even with a six-run lead. Morgan is a great kid and her energy … the girls on the team just absolutely love her. She’s just tapping into her potential.”
Leinstock was tough with her drop ball and changeup, and she was about to get real tough on her coach if he hadn’t let her take the ball to the circle for the championship game.
“I was never nervous about the offense; I believe in them and in this team. I knew they could do their thing,” she said. “I don’t get nervous. I always think, go after the batters and attack the zone. It’s the game; you just have to have fun. I told my coach, after I pitched the other games today, and said Coach Todd, I got this. I want this big game. I was so excited to have the chance.”
The Mustangs took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. With two outs, Brooklyn Lucero (North Carolina State) lifted a single to center, that bounced away from the diving centerfielder, and that allowed Avery Goelz (Florida) to score from first base.
Bejarano drove in the Suncats’ third run with a single in the fourth. Her homer in the fifth came with two strikes, an at-bat where she was more excited about the opportunity than worried about being down in the count.
“We know we’re going to come back. I did relax, and we feel we’ve done it before so we will do it again. I’ve never seen our team hit like we did this weekend,” she said. “She was throwing pretty hard, and then I got a bunch of up-balls. I took two hard cuts and said, well with two outs, I might as well go for it. I got another up-ball and just took a swing.
“We were taking it one game at a time, but we knew we could take it all, and it was in our hands.”
The Suncats started Sunday with a 6-4 win over AZ Hotshots Gold-Davis, then they topped the Scrap Yard Internationals, 11-4. In the semis, they beat Atlanta Premier Gold, 7-2. Alynah Torres (Arizona State) homered for the Suncats against the Mustangs to start the fifth inning.
Katelyn Kistler (Florida) walked, doubled and scored for the Mustangs, and Lucero had two hits.
AURORA, Colo. -- CA Breeze’s journey to the 16u Power Pool Championship wasn’t perfect but they defied the odds nonetheless. Losing two consecutive games to Impact Gold-Jazz and Firecrackers-Brashear, the Breeze rallied together, regrouped and rattled off seven straight wins, including a 3-1 victory Sunday over Hotshots Premier-Dumezich to claim the 16u Power Pool title.
“We tried to keep it simple this week,” said head coach Jennifer Birch. “We tell them to fight, compete and to never give up. That’s what they did, and I’m so proud of them.
“We came back from two huge losses. We were down in the gutter but picked ourselves up and decided to fight.”
As both starting pitchers cruised through the opening frame, the Breeze looked for some early scoring in the top of the second inning. Lauren Asia’s one-out single and stolen base put herin scoring position. Two batters later, Kyra Gooler’s single brought Asia home, putting the Breeze up 1-0.
Immediately, Hotshots Premier countered. Utilizing a one-out single of its own, Ryleigh Mata drove in Kylee Jack to make it one apiece.
“That was a really good team,” said Grace Stover. “We knew we just had to keep our energy up in the dugout and keep to our game plan.”
The game’s pace quickened as neither team could muster a run in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. For Breeze, the combination of stellar defensive play and Jenna Birch in the circle proved too much for Hotshots at the Aurora Sports Park.
“I was hitting my spots with my outside fastball,” explained Birch. “I knew that as long as I could do my job, I knew my defensive would be there to make plays behind me.”
Through seven total innings, Birch surrendered just one run on three hits. The right-hander only struck out two, allowing her defense to do most of the work. Birch did join the defensive effort, though, recording six assists in the field.
“Jenna is our workhorse,” said coach Birch of her daughter. “We go where she goes. She’s our leader and she sets the tone.
“I was skeptical about pitching her in this game, I really was. My husband, who is our new assistant coach, told me before the game to give her a chance at greatness and she did her thing.”
With the game knotted at 1-1 in the top of the seventh, something had to give in the game’s waning moments. Back-to-back singles from Jazlyn Kalehuawehe and Kyra Gooler quickly put a runner in scoring position for the Breeze with Grace Stover at the plate. Stover's hard-hit ball to second forced a miscue from the Hotshot defense, scoring the go-ahead run.
“Honestly, I was just trying to get it to the right side and move the runners over,” Stover said. “I was feeling a lot of pressure but I knew that if I just got on top of it and put it in play, things were going to happen.”
The Breeze weren’t finished just yet. Looking for a bit of insurance, Daniella Guererra moved both runners over with sacrifice bunt, setting up Claudia Medina for a sac-fly to make it 3-1.
In the final half inning, Birch wasn’t about to let the championship out of her sight. With a runner aboard, two out and facing a childhood teammate at the plate, Birch shut the door with a fly out to center.
“I knew I had to keep working for my team,” Birch said. “It’s a truly special moment. Nothing like this has ever happened in our lives. It means everything.”
Birch and the Breeze close out the week in style as the small California-based team triumphed to a 16u Power Pool Championship. It’s something that coach Jennifer Birch will never forget as a coach and as a mother.
“I’m stunned,” Birch said. “It doesn’t feel real. It wasn’t easy and they may not ever have this moment again. I hope they will never forget this because I certainly won’t.”
COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- The Impact Gold Holeman Premier had only lost once in the 2019 Fireworks tournament going into Sunday's championship game and that was to OCBB-Bracamonte. The two teams found themselves in a rematch for the Fireworks 18 & under title and it was the OCBB-Bracamonte club that proved to be Impact Gold's kryptonite; winning the championship 9-1 in five innings at Capra Field.
"These girls really work hard and it's a good group," said OCBB-Bracomonte head coach Tony Bracamonte of his team's performance. "They've been pressing and pressing to get these results."
Coming off a walk-off win in the semifinal, Impact Gold Holeman Premier carried that momentum to an early 1-0 lead after starting pitcher Karsen Pierce helped her cause with a two-out RBI infield single in the top of the first inning.
OCBB-Bracamonte responded and a big way in the bottom half of the inning, sending twelve batters to the plate and delivering multiple two-out RBI hits to hang eight runs on Impact Gold starter Pierce. Lily Martinez, Emily Baez and Sarah Risler each connected in the clutch with two-out 2-RBI hits in the offensive onslaught. Risler went 2-for-2 in the inning with a single and a double.
With a lead of 8-1, OCBB-Bracamonte starter Julia Cabral went into cruise control allowing just three hits in five innings work, including two strike-outs. Cabral's biggest challenge came in the top of the third inning when Impact Gold had the loaded the bases with two outs. The threat was escaped after forcing a groundout to the right side leading to a runners interference call to end the inning.
The lone offensive bright spot for the Impact Gold was right fielder Kennedy Terry who went 2-for-2 with a single and a double.
First baseman Riley Rovacoba plated another run in the bottom of the fourth with a sacrifice groundout; giving OCBB-Bracamonte a 9-1 lead and the eight run cushion they needed.
Cabral, with the help of an infield boasting three commitments to Colorado State, turned away all three batters in the bottom half of the fifth securing the Fireworks 18u Championship & an undefeated tournament record.
"Confidence is everything and it's an everyday thing," said Coach Bracamonte of his team moving forward. "We will keep this together and continue to play well."
By Michael Roley
ERIE, Colo – A few minutes before the start of the 14U Power Pool Championship game, a few players from the Texas Bombers Gold HTX-Burgess team were tossing a Frisbee around in foul territory by the dugout as they waited for the game to begin.
As it turns out, they do that regularly before games to help them relax.
Well, it may have done the trick as the Bombers won the title game over Orange County Batbusters-Flores by a score of 10-2 to capture the 14U Power Pool Championship of the Junior Sparkler tournament. For the week, the Bombers finished with an impressive record of 11-1.
“It’s really exciting to be in a tournament like this,” said Aiyana Coleman, who had three hits and three RBIs in the game.” It’s a national tournament and we were just really pumped and we were trying really hard to win this.”
The Bombers got off to an early lead, jumping out to a 6-1 lead after three innings and a 9-1 advantage in the sixth. From there, they didn’t look back as starting pitcher Marlen Sandoval kept the Batbusters offense from finding any groove.
Coleman drove in Katie Lott on a double for the Bombers’ first run in the opening frame. Then, in that pivotal third inning, Amiah Burgess started things off with a single. After getting moved over on a sacrifice bunt, Kayden Henry launched a two-run home run over the fence that broke a 1-1 tie and put the Bombers ahead for good.
“I just saw the opportunity to help my team out,” Henry said. “And I saw the pitch and I took it.”
Lott followed Henry’s dinger with a single and then Coleman ripped a double just inside the third base line. Victoria Valdez walked and suddenly, the bases were loaded. Klarissa Martinez and Seleste Compian hit back-to-back RBI singles and the Bombers were ahead 5-1. Shelby Frazier added an RBI groundout that rounded out the five-run inning.
Going in the Bombers knew that this game wasn’t going to be easy. The Batbusters were coming off an exciting one-run win in their semifinal matchup.
“We knew the championship wasn’t going to be handed to us and that we needed to work for that,” Coleman said.
The Bombers tacked on three more runs in the top of the sixth. Coleman hit her second double, this time with two runs scoring. Compian added an RBI single in that inning, as well. Emma Landauer substituted into the game and blasted a solo home run to centerfield to lead off the seventh and put the Bombers’ lead at 10-2.
Perhaps the Frisbee throws helped ease the players’ minds before the game. But more than that, their approach at the plate remained simple and they avoided trying to do too much.
“I feel like in that game we were more focused on just trying to get one run at a time than trying to hit it far,” Henry said.
And it also helps that once one batter or a handful of hitters got going at the plate, that spread to everyone else in the lineup. Eventually, the result became everybody in the batting order piecing together solid at-bats and hitting the ball hard.
“It’s very contagious,” Coleman said. “It’s like a disease almost.”
Sandoval pitched six innings and allowed just two runs on seven hits. Halie Pappion came on in relief and pitched a scoreless seventh while striking out two of the three batters she faced.
The Batbusters got on the board early in the first on an RBI single from catcher Oakley Bates. Bates also drove in the second run for the Batbusters on a sacrifice fly after they got traffic on the bases following a lead-off single from Presley Hosick and a bunt single from Ailana Agbayani.
To get to the championship game, the Bombers began the day with a 10-6 win over West Bay Warriors Gold in the quarterfinals and then won a tight 3-2 game over FC Brashear 2022 to reach the finals.
Going home with the championship is surely a good feeling. But doing so with a week’s worth of memories with your team just adds to it.
“I think mostly I’ll remember the beautiful skies and scenery and just having fun with my team,” Henry said.
By Adam Dunivan
WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- There was nothing mystical about the run to the 2019 18U Colorado Sparkler championship for Illusions Gold Villegas.
Simply put, all three phases of the game came to play for the entire week, and coach George Villegas's team from Texas had a Sunday championship bracket run that rivaled anything the organization had ever done previously at this nationally renowned tournament.
It concluded at the Tepper Fields with a 4-1 win over a good Firecrackers Humble (Huntington Beach, Calif.) -- the biggest hit supplied by Caleigh Robinson in the first inning as she smacked a three-run home run to give her team an early lead.
Pitcher Taryn Westbrook and the defense behind her made that stand up.
"We knew after (the quick start) that our energy was going to be up and that we were fine, and with the defense behind me I just knew things were going to turn out okay," Westbrook said after the game ended and celebration began. "(The tournament) was amazing. This whole week we've been hitting and scoring so many runs. And we've gotten so much closer as a team, so I'm glad we went out like this."
"It was really special, coming all the way from Texas to do this, and just all the work we've put in and some things we've gone through, we've fought through and this is a high point for us," added Avalon Sanchez, who had two hits and drove in the team's fourth run, in the third inning.
The team won nine straight games to take the title, squeaking past Texas Elite Fastpitch Ryan 5-4 in the semifinals. Only two other games of theirs were close ... until the championship tilt.
The Firecrackers, who played seven games in the final two days of the tournament in order to reach the championship, put together good at-bats in almost all of their seven innings against the Illusions, including loading the bases in each of the first two innings. But Westbrook managed to escape each of those situations was minimal damage as the Firecrackers were only able to plate a single run, that coming in the second frame when Terra Goetz drove home Lily Gallardo with a groundball out.
Tim Humble's team continued to get baserunners early in innings, but the squad just couldn't come up with the big base knock that could keep them in it.
"I think we had runners in scoring position with less than two outs in our first five innings, and we scored one run," Humble said. "Their pitcher threw a good game, moved the ball in the zone up and down on us, and we just didn't get any hits. She out-pitched us."
"We had really good pitching, and with Taryn being able to get ahead in counts it allowed us to be able to throw different pitches in the strike zone that got the batters to bait to them," Sanchez said. "We had solid defense, and we knew they could field anything that was hit to them."
The Firecrackers had one last chance to make a game of it in the bottom of the seventh inning and Alexis Clancy made it interesting with a one-out base hit to bring up Andrea Belme. But Westbrook got her to bounce a ball to shortstop Rylee Obroski that had game ending double-play written all over it, and the execution was pristine to register the game-clinching outs.
"It was a battle on both sides, for sure," Westbrook said. "I was just trying to get that groundball so that we had a chance to get a double play, and when they actually turned it ... it was just so exciting to see that."
The Illusions will get to play closer to home as soon as July 18, taking plenty of momentum into the Triple Crown Southwest Nationals.