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.
LOVELAND, Colo. – The Colorado Sparkler Juniors is regarded as one of the top 14u tournaments in the country each summer. To finish 10-0 and knock off another undefeated team in PS33 Academy in the championship game is downright impressive.
That’s exactly what All-Out 04 from Tuscaloosa, AL did Sunday afternoon at Barnes Complex on its way to claim the 14 Open Gold Championship 13-9 in front of a raucous crowd of family and friends, many of whom drove 18-plus hours to be in Colorado for the tournament.
“It means everything for us to win this,” said head coach Brett Smith. “Coming here from Alabama and not really having any expectations against 138 teams and then to go undefeated. I am so proud of my girls.”
Instead of chants of “Roll Tide” coming from the Alabama faithful it was “Lets Go Scoot”! That’s right, Trinity “Scoot” Wilkinson had herself a game scoring five runs, two doubles, a single and a home run.
“Trinity Wilkinson is probably one of the top 14u players in the nation. She may not get the recognition she needs, but this kid hit about eight home runs this week and batted over 565. She has been very huge to our success,” said Smith.
All-Out combined for 20 hits in the game and trailed 5-3 heading into the fourth inning. With two outs the Alabama team recorded five runs on eight consecutive hits to jump ahead 8-5.
“We preached all week to score every inning. We knew it was going to be a shootout with this team. They hadn’t gave up many runs all tournament, so it was key for us to score every inning we could.”
The team added one more run in the fifth off a deep home run over the centerfield fence by Wilkinson to lead 9-6 after five.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game, but I kept telling my team that we can do this,” said Wilkinson.
All-Out would give themselves a little bit more cushion adding one run in the sixth and three more in the seventh. PS33 looked like they were going to make it interesting in the bottom of the seventh scoring three runs, but a stellar defensive effort by All-Out ended the game.
Starting pitcher Mimi Gooden threw all seven innings and held the PS33 offense to one of their lowest outings of the tournament.
“It means the whole world to my team to win this especially our pitcher (Mimi Gooden). She pitched her butt off and our offense was locked in. I am so proud of our girls,” said Wilkinson.
By Dan Mohrmann
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Two days after Fourth of July celebrations dwindled down in the Pikes Peak Region, 2006 Texas Glory RWB decided it was time for more fireworks. And the girls wasted no time in lighting them off.
A six-run first inning set the tone as Glory beat Texas Glory Adkins 14-3 to claim the 12u championship at the Sparkler Juniors Tournament at the Skyview Complex in Colorado Springs. The two teams are rivals in their home state, increasing the stakes for the championship game in each dugout.
“It was definitely intense,” RWB coach Ryan Hooker said. “Our girls were fired up. They’re a great team and we battle all the time. The last two times we got them but the time before that, they got us. There’s a lot of great kids on both sides.”
Adkins took an early 2-0 in the top of the first inning thanks to a two-run home run from Lucy Crowder. RWB was able to hold off any more damage before getting its first go-round at the plate.
With a runner on base in the bottom of the first, Emilee Prochaska took an aggressive hack at the ball and almost immediately after contact was made, her fist went into the air in celebration. Her two-run bomb tied the game and made RWB feel a little at ease after giving up those two runs in the top of the inning.
“We were (worried),” Prochaska said. “But I knew we would come back. We’re a fighting team.”
And that fight continued to show in the first inning. Lyndsey Hooker reached base on a walk and then Hallie Day firmly put momentum with RWB with a two-run blast of her own to make it a 4-2 game in the blink.
“It felt good,” Day said. “It was my first one (of my life) so I was very proud of myself. It adds a lot because this whole thing, we all earned it and it was a team effort.”
Taylor Roberts – the starting pitcher for RWB – added an RBI single to push the lead to 5-2 and force Adkins coach Ben Slade to make a pitching change. He placed Crowder on the mound in place of Kiersten Fincannon, but at that point it felt like there was nothing slowing down RWB.
Luciana Moreno scored on a wild pitch before Adkins was able to get out of the inning.
A fielding error by RWB in the top of the second inning allowed Samantha Garcia to score for Adkins, but that would be the final run to cross the plate for them.
RWB went right back to work in the bottom of the inning. They had scored two runs before Grace Weaver ripped a two-RBI double to the gap to push the lead to 10-3. Moreno and Roberts each drove in runs before Prochaska drove in her third run of the night with a ground-rule double to put RWB up 13-3. Another run made it a 14-3 game and Coach Hooker sent Sadie Beck out to pitch and close things out in the third.
A quick strike out and groundout put RWB on the verge of winning. One runner reached, but it wouldn’t be enough as one more groundout to short sent the RWB dugout into a frenzy.
“It’s huge,” Hooker. “These kids, anything we ever ask of them, they do it. They just keep fighting. Coming into the bracket we won three in a row then lost a tight one this morning and they just kept rallying. I just asked them to keep their composure and stay within themselves and they did. And now they’re Sparkler champs.”
Which just means more luggage to take on the way home. But in this case, there’s no problem finding room to store it for the drive back.
By Adam Dunivan
ARVADA, Colo. -- Jay Russell's Factory 16U Gold has been a factory of wins at the 2019 Colorado Sparkler. Just three more victories, and they can call themselves champions.
The San Diego-based team with Florida Gators-inspired threads have overcome a tough start to the tournament and will be riding a five-game win streak to Sunday's Mt. Elbert Championship Bracket play after beating the So Cal Choppers VC by a 6-2 count at the Lutz Fields in Arvada. A four-run fourth inning was more than enough as pitcher Auriel Yeager kept the Choppers bats from getting anything solid.
"For the most part, clutch hitting and awesome pitching ... our pitcher Auriel stepped up and has been pitching lights-out every single game," said Russell, whose team is stacked with mostly rising seniors. "We're on fire right now and really just performing to our potential."
Yeager was calm and collected in the circle, cutting corners in brilliant fashion as she held the Choppers to single runs in the second and fifth innings, both runs coming with two outs on the board.
Meanwhile, a two-run first inning for Factory Gold proved to be an efficient start, and Jacquie Clark's two-run single as part of that four-run fourth capped off the scoring for the win. Also in the fourth inning, Jessica Moore's sacrifice bunt attempt was misplayed for another run and the team also utilized a double-steal to nab another one.
Clark said that playing with the lead was huge, and that adding insurance runs was vital as well to getting The Factory past yet another really tough team.
"It felt really good getting those runs in, knowing we had those insurance runs and being able to go back out onto the field and just knowing we only needed to get those three outs and then it was done," Clark said.
The Factory's defense was off-and-on, but they did turn a couple of double plays including one in the sixth inning that seemed to seal So Cal's fate.
They'll resume play at 8 a.m. on Sunday as one of eight teams vying for that ultimate prize.
"It's pretty special to be part of that championship bracket, because there's, what, 1,000 teams here?" Russell said. "Now hopefully we can just close the deal."
By Adam Dunivan
ARVADA, Colo -- With Saturday's accelerated play at the 16U Colorado Sparkler, and with elusive spots in the Sunday championship bracket on the line, the margin for error was quite small for the 16U Originals Threat in its Mt. Elbert Bracket A winner's game at Lutz Field.
And fortunately for head coach Kevin Murphy, his team had his back in the third inning of what turned out to be just a four-inning game against the Salt Lake Vision. A lineup card issue was brought up right at the beginning of that momentum-swinging frame, but the Originals didn't let that rattle them in a five-run inning that eventually led to a 7-4 win.
"Even I can be a little dumb sometimes," Murphy told his team after.
Honest mistake, coach. And in reality, the Originals made enough plays, capitalized on some Vision mistakes and got good enough pitching from the get-go to emerge victorious.
"We took advantage of some mistakes, and really they were the ones on their game," Murphy later said of his girls. "They played well. They hit well and they took advantage of the errors. Everybody has been playing well and I couldn't be more proud of this group."
It was the sixth straight win for the Kansas City, Missouri-based organization and now they find themselves in the eight-team Sparkler Mt. Elbert Championship Bracket. That begins Sunday morning at 8 a.m. MDT, with the championship game set for 2 p.m.
Not bad for a team that had only two pitchers to start and are now down to just one -- Antonia Muniz.
"With the one pitcher, it's lit a fire in us a little bit because we want to help her as much as we can," said teammate Hadley Uribe, who smacked base hits in all three of her at-bats. "On defense, we don't want to make any errors because we want to do this for her. We all love each other and we're all really best friends and we just want to play for each other."
The O's threatened to get some runs from the start by loading the bases in the top of the first inning, but didn't strike until that third inning after spotting the Vision two runs. Uribe drove in a run with her second hit of the game, but an error got two more runs home to make it 3-2. Irelynn West and Kinlei Boley each drove home runs with base hits, as well, to make it 5-2.
The Vision got back in it with a run in the bottom of the third when Taylor Weber got a two-out, bases-loaded base knock but the O's defense helped keep that to just the one run and then Muniz got a strikeout to get out of the jam.
In the fourth, it was speed again that led to more O's runs. Rylie Boyer beat out a sacrifice bunt attempt after a pitching change, and her base hit gave way to another Uribe hit to right field. A throwing error then allowed Boyer to cross the plate with ease.
"Making sure we were playing aware and just looking for extra bases and not just settling for what we think we're going to get," Uribe said. "Looking for the next thing."
The Vision didn't give up, scratching across a run and getting the tying run to home plate before the game ended with a fly ball out to left field.
By Michael Roley
There wasn’t anything flashy about it.
And there didn’t need to be.
The East Coast Firecrackers (New Hampshire) ground its way to a hard-fought 5-3 win over the California Firecrackers-Humble in a matchup of two teams who sported the same team name but hailed from two different ends of the country.
“It was gritty,” head coach Tori Constantin said. “We’ve been playing a lot and this game was later in the day for us. But we’re finding ways to get it done. Our bats are progressively getting better. It was a good team win.”
It was a game where both starting pitchers, Madie Fornwalt of East Coast and Terra Goetz of the California team were largely in control. East Coast struck first with an RBI double from Fornwalt. But the California Firecrackers came right back in the fourth with two runs of its own on a two-run base hit by Alexis Clancy. Both team’s defenses were steady behind the pitchers. And this made for an efficient contest in a game that began nearly an hour later than it was scheduled.
“That game kind of felt different,” said Fornwalt, who is committed to play at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. “Plays were routine and a lot of them seemed effortless.”
In the bottom of the fifth, the East Coast Firecrackers were able to put traffic on the bases. Fornwalt continued her big game with a two-run double to bring her RBI total to three for the game. This hit also put East Coast ahead 3-2, a lead that would prove to be insurmountable.
The scoring in the inning wasn’t finished, however. Hannah French followed Fornwalt with a double of her own that plated two more runs and extended the East Coast lead to 5-2.
Both teams played a quiet sixth inning before things got intriguing in the top of the seventh. Clancy came up to the plate to lead off the inning. After a tough at-bat that featured multiple foul balls with two strikes, Clancy found a pitch she liked and blasted it over the fence in right-center field. All of a sudden, the score was 5-3 and momentum began to shift slightly to the California Firecrackers’ side.
After inducing a flyout to left field, Lily Gallardo hit a rocket through shortstop and reached second on an errant throwback to first. The tying run came to the plate for the California Firecrackers. The tension at Waddell Park grew slightly. But not for long. Fornwalt struck out the next batter and then got the next one to ground out to shortstop to end the game.
“It’s really stressful and I was a little tired so it’s kind of extra too,” Fornwalt said. “I enjoy it. It’s nice and it’s fun."
The East Coast Firecrackers advanced to play another game in Mount Elbert B Bracket play. There wasn’t much rest for them either as they were slated to take on Lady Stros Gold Morgan in a game immediately after their win over the California Firecrackers.
They began the day with a 10-3 win over Newtown Rock Gold-Baker. On the tournament, they are 5-1 in the 18U Sparkler. And nonetheless, after traveling roughly 2,000 miles, they are enjoying their experience in Colorado.
“It’s awesome. This is the softball element,” Constantin said. “I’m glad we could come out here and experience this.”
By Evan Tynan
LOVELAND, Colo. - As the Sparkler Juniors 14U tournament works its way closer to weekend play, two teams having early success matched up to see who would advance in Power Pool Bracket C. Texas Bombers Gold 14U HTX- Burgess was able to scrap together a late run to advance over EC Bullets 04 Hegood/Backets, 5-4, in six innings at Barnes Sports Complex.
Early on the EC Bullets looked like the team to beat after putting up three runs in the top of the second inning. Kit Heggood delivered a two-out, two RBI double to give the Bullets a 2-0 lead, and Emma Elrod added to it with a bloop single to center making it 3-0.
"We got down early and I told the girls it's gonna take more than three runs to win this ballgame," said EC Bullets head coach James Burgess. "The girls know that we are always capable of coming back and the bats are hot right now."
Outfielder Kayden Henry got the Texas Bombers on the board for the first time when she laced a two-out double that brought home two runs in the bottom of the third. It was Henry's alert base running that allowed her to make it to third base on a throwing error, giving three-hole hitter Katie Lott the opportunity to knock her in the next pitch and tie the game, 3-3.
Bombers reliever Halie Pappion escaped a bases loaded scare in the top of the fourth inning and Texas used that momentum to take their first lead of the game in the bottom half of the inning. Outfielder Seleste Compain led off the inning by reaching base and worked her way around to score on a wild pitch putting Texas up 4-3.
The game took a wild turn in the top of the fifth while Ava Brooke Stickland's sacrifice fly tied the game 4-4; the remaining Bullets baserunner tried to take home after an errant relay throw but was cut down at the plate to end the inning.
The Bombers Gold delivered in crunch time with the bases loaded in the bottom half of the fifth when Compain connected on a RBI single to center, giving the Bombers a 5-4 advantage.
Pappion shutdown the Bullets in the top of the sixth, going three-up, three-down to earn the save in the Bombers Gold win. Texas will play Saturday, July 6, in the next round of the Power Pool C Bracket in Erie, Colo.
"It's a new day." said Burgess of his team moving on in the tournament. "As long as we stay positive, have energy and we are up good things are going to happen."
By Adam Dunivan
WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- The 18U NJ Heist Elite boasts not a single 18-year-old on the team at this year's Colorado Sparkler tournament, and yet the squad's play has most definitely indicated they are not in over their head playing against older competition.
In fact, the team of all 2021's and 2022's keeps blasting their way through the competition and did so again on Friday at the Tepper Fields. A 9-5 win over the SoCal Athletics-Gonzalez in Mt. Elbert A Bracket play has the Heist Elite in the bracket winner's game Saturday at noon against the Illusions Gold Villegas (Austin, Texas).
"(Being young) is a great experience because we all can gel together," said Heist Elite's Madison Weir, herself a 2022 from Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair, N.J.
The Heist Elite went 4-0 in their pool play and took down two SoCal Athletics organizational teams on Friday, having earlier in the day defeated SoCal Athletics-Jendro/Dempsey 12-2. Weir made the most of the pitches she saw with three home runs on the day, and the team's power stroke was on display throughout the afternoon to aide in the advancement.
They needed all those runs against a pesky A's Gonzalez team that had battled back from losing its first two pool play games to contend in the upper-most Sparkler bracket. Julia Yukniewicz's first-inning grand slam spotted Heist a 4-0 lead, but the A's responded with a run in the second inning and three runs in the third to tie it at 4-4.
In the bottom of the third, it was Taylor Hill's two-run triple that regained the lead for Heist, and after Nola Mountain's sacrifice bunt for SoCal made it 6-5 in the top of the fourth, Heist Elite responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning followed by Wier's big blast in the sixth.
"I've been going through a little slump but now I feel I'm out of it," Weir said.
Emily Arnold came into the pitching circle and silenced the SoCal bats, setting her team up for another tough challenge as the young team attempts to reach Sunday play.
Weir said that at this point in the tournament, adding runs when holding a lead becomes even more crucial.
"Now that we're getting further in, we're a pretty young team and our goal is just to compete with who we're facing," Weir said. "We just have to keep pushing hard and through everything."
By Adam Dunivan
WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- Caleigh Robinson may have been the one to ultimately deliver the biggest hit for the 18U Illusions Gold Villegas in Friday's thrilling 8-7 victory over the Rocky MTN Thunder Grammerstorf, but she wasn't about to take any of the credit for the 18U Colorado Sparkler Mt. Elbert A Bracket win, which puts the team up against the NJ Heist Elite on Saturday.
"It was just a team effort," Robinson said. "Yeah, I got the game-winning runs but it took guys in front of me to get on and do their jobs so I had to do mine. And the pitching stepped up in the end to finish it off."
Indeed it was a team win to the end, with both highlight-reel moments (here's looking at you, Maddie Boldt) and some head-scratching mistakes that kept the Colorado-based Thunder in the game and allowed them to tie things at 6-6 after six innings. Illusions Gold Villegas led the game 6-2 at one point.
Robinson was clutch in the seventh inning, hitting a two-run double to make it 8-6 just when it appeared the Thunder were going to get out of a big jam. Then in the bottom of the seventh, after an efficient six frames from starting pitcher Taryn Westbrook, 2020 Lauren Herrneckar came in and shut the door, though an error did lead to a Thunder run to provide the final margin.
It was tense, but then again at this stage of the tournament, everyone is out to win at all costs.
"It was crazy, for sure," Robinson said. "Maddie (Boldt) carried us. Our pitcher (Westbrook) ... if a pitcher is stressing then they're not going to be their best ... but she is always calm and collected."
Boldt hit two home runs, one reaching the backyard of a house well beyond the left field wall at the Tepper #2 field and the other which would have rivaled any Major Leaguer's exit velocity on its way out.
However, those blasts may not have been Boldt's top highlights. Having had the bat taken out of her hand by intentional walk the rest of the afternoon, Boldt made up for it in centerfield. In the bottom of the fifth she cut off a run at home plate with a tremendous throw from near the 200-foot fence -- it landed in the catcher's glove on the fly and certainly stirred up the Illusions supporting group.
The Thunder, winners of four of their six games so far, chipped away by scoring in five of seven innings. Trailing 6-5 in the sixth and with time expired, 2020 Erin Keen came up with a tying base knock to set up a nerve-wracking conclusion.
Illusions Gold Villegas (Austin, Texas) improved to 5-0-1 for the tournament, as earlier on Friday it blanked Advanced Fastpitch Academy (Overland Park, Kans.) by a 9-0 count.
By Michael Roley
WESTMINSTER, Colo – When all three phases of the game come together at once for a team, the result is something sweet.
The Rocky Mountain Thunder (McAllister) team can certainly relate to that after a 4-0 shutout win over the E1 Prospects Silva/Gaeta on Friday afternoon in Mount Elbert B bracket play at the 18U Sparkler. The Thunder were clicking in all phases of the game. They played solid defense, delivered several timely hits and received a lights-out pitching performance from starting pitcher Audrey Burt.
The Thunder scored all four of its runs in the third inning while stifling the E1 Prospects throughout. Burt tossed six scoreless innings in which she allowed just three hits and struck out seven. The primary threat the Prospects mounted was in the fifth inning when they reached via two hit by pitches. But the Thunder were able to escape by throwing out a runner at second on a ball hit to the shallow part of the outfield and then following the second hit batter, a 6-4-3 double play.
Burt said her best pitch is the rise ball and she threw it frequently and with plenty of success.
“I just felt like I was throwing really well and really hard,” Burt said. “So, that really helped and whenever they got a hit or something, my defense was there to help me out. There was a line drive to centerfield and I was like ‘Oh no’ but they caught it and I was like ‘Alright we’re good, let’s get the next one.”’
Offensively, the Thunder used a big third inning to take control of the game. Haley Hoy kicked off the inning with a lead-off double to left. Then, the next batter, Annika Sprague, worked the count to full and launched a home run to left-center to give the Thunder a 2-0 lead.
“With a 3-2 count, I’m always expecting a strike,” Sprague said. “Off the bat I knew I hit it out.”
Carly Kirk and Genevieve Bower also had RBI hits in that pivotal third inning that gave the Thunder their permanent 4-0 lead.
The Thunder are a local team based out of the Highlands Ranch area. Like many teams at this point in the summer, the Thunder have logged their share of travel miles. So far, they’ve already made stops in Florida, Las Vegas, Arizona, and Oregon. Next week, they’ll be in Park City, Utah.
But there is something unique about playing at home. And there are definitely a few perks.
“You get to sleep in your own bed,” Sprague joked.
Oh, and they’re acclimated to the altitude. Perhaps that’s played a role, if even a small one, in its record. The Thunder went undefeated in pool play and their only loss so far after their 12 p.m. game with the E1 Prospects is a one-run defeat to a program within their own organization.
“We always play in this tournament,” Burt said. “It’s also nice because we can breathe and are used to the altitude."
The Thunder have players from various classes. On the roster, they have three players listed as Class of 2020 players, rising seniors this school year. But then another six players are incoming juniors playing up in age. And three players are 2022 players that will be sophomores.
This challenge of playing against older players is one they’ve embraced.
“I love it because the lower competition isn’t always pushing us,” Sprague said, who is in the 2021 class. “But up here we’re definitely getting better.”
by Kyle Koso
AURORA, Colo. — Staying optimistic about your chances in competition is the smart and logical way to maintain your edge, even if it almost makes you look crazy to be a believer.
The 16u AZ Hotshots-Captain squad stood just two outs from defeat Friday during Power Pool action against 16u Aces Ashley/Creamer, with the Hotshots hanging around the margins all game without much to show for the effort. But two doubles, an error and a wild pitch turned the moment upside down in the bottom of the sixth, and the Hotshots escaped with a 3-2 victory to advance in Bracket A action.
Aubrey Chavez doubled with one out, and pinch-hitter Alexi Diaz fought off the stress of an 0-2 count to double as well to make it 2-1 for the Aces. With Olivia Lostorto batting, an error allowed Diaz to score, with Lostorto advancing all the way to third.
And one wild pitch later, the Hotshots had their comeback in the books.
“That’s the key, playing to the very last out and the very last pitch. They have to know they still have a chance, and they knew they had the talent and the opportunity to win,” said Hotshots head coach Steve Captain. “They strung it together, and they put pressure on the other team at the end of the game, which led to mistakes.”
Outside of the shocking rally, the game was dominated by Aces pitcher Kylie Chung, who finished with 10 strikeouts and ended four innings with whiffs by Hotshot batters. That kept the Aces out of trouble, and Chung also provided a long solo home run in the fourth inning, pairing it with a run that came across on a balk to give the Aces that 2-0 lead.
In the sixth, Diaz came up and got into an immediate 0-2 hole. But rather than take a tentative swing, she punched a double to left-center to get the Hotshots on the scoreboard.
“Coach told me to be up on the plate to take away the outside. I watched two on the outside, knowing I shouldn’t have, but Coach said don’t leave anything on the table, so I just swung,” Diaz said. “We had a pretty good lead in our first game today and ended up getting tied and needing a tiebreaker. We didn’t lose our spirits then, and we didn’t do it this game, either.”
“We had figured early on that (Chung) was living on the outside, and the strike zone was outside, so we had to make the adjustment. We told all the batters to get up on the chalk,” Captain said. “When I made the substitution and (Diaz) came up, she let two go by, and I told her that shouldn’t have been a surprise. I was proud of her; she took it opposite field, and that made the difference.”
The rally gave the win to Hotshots starter Angelica Tello, who pitched very well — three hits allowed, three walks, and ringing up six of the first seven outs on harmless balls to third base.
“I shook off that first game; I knew my team wanted this one, and I had to give it my all,” Tello said. “It felt pretty good, knowing my team had my back and was able to score the runs we needed.”
Chavez had two hits and a walk for the Hotshots, and Taylor Meyers also doubled.
Fresh off a dramatic final inning comeback to beat American Freedom, 9-8, Finesse 18u Blevins was fired for its second Fireworks double elimination bracket contest. The Michigan natives wouldn’t need its late-game heroics versus the San Jose Lady Sharks, moving a step closer to the Championship Single Elimination Bracket with a 15-3 victory.
“I always tell my team to come in a never let off the gas pedal,” said head coach Greg Blevins. “Every team here is good and they’re here for a reason. No one is coming from around the country to not be ready to play softball. So, I tell my team to stay focused the entire time and stick to the game plan.”
Tessa Nuss kicked off the came with a single but after two passed balls, she was standing just 60 feet away from home. Two batters later, Sierra Kersten drove Nuss home with a grounder towards shortstop.
Nuss was just getting her day started.
The lefty came back to the plate in the top of the second inning with the bases loaded and two out. Jumping on the first offering from the Sharks’ pitcher, Nuss launched a grand slam over the fence, giving her squad a 5-0 advantage.
“I been working on my full swings lately and wanted to see what I could do outside of practice,” said Nuss. “In every at-bat, I just tried to read what the defense was giving me. I want to be a three-dimensional player at the plate, so I try to work on everything.”
In the circle, Finesse’s lead appeared safe and secure with Alexis Bonk at the reins. By the time Bonk turned the keys over to Makayla Thompson in the fourth inning, she had struck out seven Shark batters and didn’t allow a runner past second base.
“Alexis is a bulldog in the circle,” said Blevins. “She knows she has great teammates behind her and ever time the stakes get higher, she seems to rise to the occasion.”
“I was still pumped from our comeback win in the last game and it carried over into our second matchup,” Bonk explained. “I was able to get ahead in a lot of my counts early and that’s always a nice place to pitch from.”
Following a three-run top of the third inning which included a two-run home run from Allysa Lake, Finesse kept the pedal to the metal in the fourth and fifth frames. Five runs crossed the plate in the fourth as six players collected hits and Nuss showed her power again in the fifth, blasting a solo shot. Nuss’ 4-4 morning included two home runs, a bunt single, five RBI and four runs scored.
“Tessa works so hard on her game,” Blevins said. “We’re working really hard on her ability to read the defense. I want her to know where she can get a hit no matter what teams throw at her. Of course, she also showed her power from the left side today.”
Despite giving up three runs in the fourth, Thompson guided the ship home in the fifth and sixth innings, sealing Finesse’s 15-3 victory and propelling her team one win away from the Championship Single Elimination Bracket.
“As long as we support each other and keep our energy up as a team, we can keep this thing rolling tomorrow,” said Bonk.
By Michael Roley
LOVELAND, Colo -- Throughout pool play, the Eugene Lightning 04 were waiting patiently for that breakthrough moment.
They had lost their first three games of the 14U Open division of the Junior Sparkler, including two nail-biters by one run. But eventually, their patience paid off Thursday afternoon and that wonderful breakthrough moment came as they rolled to a 10-2 win over Gameday Xtreme in five innings.
The Lightning (Eugene, Oregon) fell behind early 2-1 after the first inning, but as they have throughout the tournament, they stayed the course.
“It was really nice to comeback,” said starting pitcher Malia Williams said. “We got down in the beginning and just battled back.”
Earlier in the day, the Lightning dropped a close, hard-fought game to the Oklahoma Steele 04 by a score of 7-6. The players said they were a little slow at the start offensively in that one and aimed to correct that in their second game of the day.
And they did just that. After scoring one run in the first, the Lightning responded with a big second inning that scored four runs and gave them a solid 5-2 lead.
During the inning, and throughout the contest, the Lightning put plenty of traffic on the bases and played small ball to take their lead. Chelsea Rustik led off with a base hit. After that, the Lightning executed a series of textbook bunt plays. Natalie Plough bunted for a hit and Williams followed with a second consecutive bunt hit. Aaliyah Gaboriault hit a ball hard to left that was out of reach for the left fielder and two runs scored.
Brenna Wilson dropped the third excellent bunt down of the inning and beat the throw to first as another run scored. Layla Martinez hit a sacrifice fly to round out the scoring in the second.
“We get on base. I think our weakness over the last couple of weekends has been leaving a lot of runners on base,” head coach Kim Strahm said. “I think, especially the last few games, we’ve done a really good job of getting runners in scoring position and then scoring them.”
After a scoreless third and fourth, the Lightning struck again with a big fifth inning that put the game out of reach. Martinez led off the inning with a single and from there, the offense got rolling. Molly Blanchette hit an RBI single that scored Martinez and Laurel McGuigan hit a ball past third that scored two more.
Rustik added another RBI on a single as the Lightning plated five runs in their final turn at the plate. Williams pitched four strong innings, allowing only two runs and zero runs after the first. Mya Guerin tossed an efficient fifth inning to close out the game.
The resiliency displayed by her team came as no surprise to Strahm, who added that the team also shows consistent energy.
“I tend to expect it,” Strahm said. “We are a very expressive group. We do a lot of cheers and try to have a lot of energy for game time and practice. These girls always found a way to comeback. I’m really proud of them.”
The Lightning’s perseverance rewarded them with an impressive win on Thursday. And that showing can only do good things for them moving forward.
“I think it’ll help us because you kind of get down if you’re losing, but I think this will help us bounce back,” Martinez said.
The Lightning begin bracket play Friday morning at 8 a.m. at Centennial Park against the Minnesota Sting.
By Michael Roley
LOVELAND, Colo – It had been two weeks since Jaylee Ojo had pitched extensively in a game.
The right-handed pitcher for the PS33 Academy team out of Sacramento, California injured her wrist two weeks ago at a tournament in Portland. One might think that after time off like that there could be some rust to kick off in getting acclimated to pitching again.
Well, that wasn’t a factor at all for Ojo in PS33 Academy’s (14U) 3-0 win over USA Athletics Sanchez-2022 on Thursday. Ojo, who head coach Wes Archie said was the ace of PS33’s pitchers, was incredibly sharp. She tossed a seven-inning complete game shutout while allowing only a few hits and striking out six. USA Athletics barely threatened with runners in scoring position, and when they did, Ojo worked out of those situations with poise.
“This is her first time pitching in two weeks so for her to come out and throw the way she did, I think they got a few hits off of her, but she dominated and shut them out,” Archie said. “She did a fantastic job.”
PS33 Academy gave Ojo an early 2-0 lead in their half of the first and that proved to be all she needed. Ojo, who did appear for an inning in an earlier game but made her first start in two weeks, had her entire repertoire of pitches working. She said she throws a fastball, drop ball, rise ball, and changeup. All four pitches were working on Thursday and keeping hitters guessing.
Proof of this came after the game when Archie said Ojo’s drop was “dominant” and helping set up her other pitchers. Catcher Reina Zermeno added that the rise was also very effective in getting batters out, especially once they had two strikes. Ojo found a rhythm early and was able to deliver several wicked pitches with late movement.
Ojo credited the defense behind her for such a dominant outing. Perhaps this was most evident when a USA Athletics player popped a ball up in front of the plate. Zermeno sprung from her catching stance to make a diving catch and then fired to first to complete the double play.
“I knew I had a good defense behind me and I knew that no matter what, my teammates would back me up,” Ojo said. “I wasn’t nervous or anything.”
Each team has their own version of how they call pitches. Typically, the coach calls them from the dugout and the catcher relays the signs out to the pitcher. This is predominantly what PS33 does a lot of the time. However, what makes them unique is that Archie isn’t hesitant to allow his catcher to call them either when needed.
“I trust my catchers to go ahead and call pitches as well,” he said.
And that trust is something Zermeno certainly embraces.
“It’s really nice that he knows I can call the game and he trusts me,” Zermeno said. “I like calling it, especially because I can really see where the batter is and what they’re doing.”
Zermeno also blasted an important two-out home run that extended PS33’s lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth and helped provide more cushion to the lead.
Throughout the tournament, PS33 Academy had been putting up eye-opening numbers on the scoreboard. Coming into the matchup with USA Athletics, they had outscored their opponents in three previous games by a combined score of 48-3. In two of those games, they scored at least 15 runs, including a 23-run outburst.
This game proved to be a more competitive contest, with both teams going in unbeaten in Pool V play of the 14U open in the Sparkler. It was important in establishing seeding for bracket play beginning tomorrow. But combine that with a Fourth of July day, and it was a welcomed challenge for PS33.
“It was exciting because we were going head-to-head being some of the best teams in our pool,” Zermeno said. “It was really cool to see us come out and fight, not afraid and knowing what we had to do.”
PS33 will begin bracket play Friday at 9:45 a.m. against NorCal Firecrackers EP at Barnes Complex in Loveland.
AURORA, Colo. -- Resting for two days before opening 18u Fireworks play is just what the doctor ordered for the Rhode Island Thunder Gold – Wilson. Opening on Thursday with a 16-2 win over the Northwest Lady Bandits, Rhode Island followed up with a 10-0 victory over Polar Rush Gold.
“With a couple of our games readjusted due to the weather, I wasn’t quite sure what we were going to look like with a couple days rest,” said head coach Adam Laliberte. “Obviously, coming from out East we’re not quite used to the atmosphere of Colorado. It’s been nice to get our wind a little bit.”
After a quiet first inning of softball, Meghan Gormley made some noise in the top half of the second. With two outs, Gormely launched a solo home run, giving the Thunder the early lead.
“Coach had us really focused on going after that first-pitch strike,” said Gormley. “Against these tougher pitchers, you’re not always going to get that perfect pitch. You have to do the best with what you’re given.”
Rhode Island added two more runs in the third inning as Emily Tow matched Gormley’s effort with a home run of her own. Kaitlyn Holly also tallied a run, utilizing her speed to take advantage of a few Polar Rush defensive errors.
In the circle, Caitlyn Fallon was spinning a gem. Through three innings, the University of Maine commit dealt two 1-2-3 innings and struck out two.
“We were kind of hitting everything, my catcher and I,” Fallon said. “We were hitting a lot of different spots and with a lot of movement.”
Even with a bit of pressure in the fourth and fifth innings with runners in scoring position, Fallon relied on her defense, forcing a duo of popups in each frame.
“They always have each other’s back,” Fallon said. “The team is always the priority. It’s an awesome team culture to have.”
Already leading 3-0, the Thunder added to its total with a safety squeeze bunt in the fourth inning from Gabrielle Comeau.
Still not satisfied, Rhode Island exploded for six runs in the sixth inning. The Thunder totaled four extra-base hits, including a three-run home run by Olivia Gilbert, her fourth of the tournament.
“I’m just trying to pick up my team right now,” said Gilbert. “My bat wasn’t as hot last week so I’ve tried to pick it up this week.”
Laliberte handed the reins over to Jenna Bradley in the sixth inning. With the double-digit advantage, Bradley confidently set down the top of the Polar Crush lineup in order.
“Our pitching has been fantastic,” said Laliberte. “We’ve been focused on clean defense, because if you make a mistake against the teams in this tournament, you’re almost certain to give up a run if not more. I couldn’t be happier with how Caitlyn and Jenna pitched today.”
Rhode Island earns a top seed in the 18u Fireworks double elimination bracket. Before its Friday matchup, the Thunder will play a pair of practice games, looking to continue its momentum.
“We just need to have fun,” said Gormley. “That’s what this is all about.”
NORTHGLENN, Colo. - The offensive fireworks were on display on Thursday morning when Oklahoma Athletics 16U Gold- Madden took the field against Indy Dreams Gold Lewis-16U. Both teams entered the game coming off a morning win in the Box Bracket BF of Sparkler 16 & Under play but it was the OK Athletics who worked out of two bases loaded jams to earn the 10-7 victory.
"The bats came alive today and we play really good defense behind the pitcher; played really well today", said OK Athletics head coach Jon Hunter.
Indy Dreams started things with a bang in the top of the first with a two-run blast from first baseman Kate Mathies but the Athletics took advantage of a throwing error by the Dreams' third baseman in the bottom half of the inning leading to a 2-2 ballgame.
After an RBI ground rule double in bottom of the second from Brooke Fleming that gave the Athletics their first lead, Nina Richards knotted things back up in the top of the third after an RBI single making it 3-3. That was all the damage that Athletics starting pitcher Tori Miller would allow in the third, stranding three runners to keep the game even.
"We have been struggling on not giving up the big inning, so that was great to see us get out of big situations twice today," said Coach Hunter.
The momentum of the clutch defensive stop sparked the bats of the Athletics, who worked their way to a 7-3 lead by the end of fourth, headlined by Abby Hunter's key two-out two RBI single.
Indy Dreams rallied in the top of the fifth, plating three runs to put the score at 7-6, which was all started by a towering home run off the bat of leadoff hitter Beth Pavy.
It was in the bottom half of the inning when the Athletics pulled away for good after catcher Peyton Norvelle sent a three-run bomb over the left field wall to make it 10-6; as the Athletics batted through the order.
The final push came in the top of the seventh from the Indy Dreams, who were able to score one to reduce the gap, but it was Miller who again clamped down on the mound with the bases loaded to escape with the 10-7 win at Northwest Open Space Park.
By Adam Dunivan
WESTMINSTER, Colo -- 18U SoCal Athletics Jendro/Dempsey head coach Brian Wilson couldn't help but admire the resolve of his team Wednesday during the 18U Colorado Sparkler's second day of competition at Westminster's Tepper Fields.
Shortstop Mairady Dempsey confirmed Wilson's thoughts after the A's came from behind in both of their games, the second a thrilling 8-7 walk-off victory in which they trailed the TX CF Intruders Banzer 6-3 heading to the sixth inning.
"We always seem to (get behind), like first game today we were down 5-0, but we find away to slowly but surely come back and keep our energy up," Mairady Dempsey said. "If it wasn't for our energy, we'd be nothing. That does it for us."
Overall, Wednesday was the ultimate recovery for the A's after dropping both their games on Tuesday, and it made Pool E of the 18U Sparkler a little bit tighter after the Intruders initially were running away with things.
"I think the main thing is the girls have a little more confidence as we know get into a little heavier competition," Wilson said after watching his team score five runs over the final two innings to upset the Intruders. "But these are the fun ones -- the ones you win by one in 'overtime'. They're the ones that take years off my life, but they're the fun games to be part of."
This week, these SoCal A's are representing Arkansas and Missouri, along with a few California players playing with the team for this particular tournament. The bottom line, however, is they all came together to get some needed wins. After beating Colorado Altitude 11-8 in their first game on the day, Wilson said he knew his team was going to be challenged with the Intruders, who had scored 32 runs in the previous three games.
And it was a slugfest. The teams combined for 29 hits and Intruders batters didn't strike out the entire contest.
SoCal led the game 3-2 going to the fifth inning when it appeared the Intruders were going to salt away the game. They plated four runs to take a lead, getting big hits from Hannah Schnettler and Caroline Banzer as part of the rally. The Texas team followed it up with a clean run through the A's lineup in the bottom of the inning, and it was 6-3 heading to the bottom of the sixth before SoCal strung together some good hits.
Dempsey doubled and went to third on a wild pitch, and she scored off a single from Kasaya Christianson to make it 6-4. Then came Shalin Charles, whose towering two-run home run left no doubt about a suddenly tied game the second it came off the bat -- it was Charles' third hit.
"She's been on this weekend, that's her second home run" said Dempsey, who is still looking for her right college fit. "I hit the last one in, but she got the runs to tie it up before that so she was a big part of it all."
The Intruders came back with a run in the seventh as Kaitlyn Lara-Corn drove home Schnettler, but SoCal got the winning runs home on the combination of a Haley Nguyen double to the gap and a Dempsey infield single in which she beat out a bang-bang play at first base with Desiree Lara providing the winning run.
"That game could have went either way, but it was the hitting that came through for us," Wilson said. "It came down to one swing."
Both teams now wait for the brackets to be revealed for Friday play.
By Michael Roley
AURORA, Colo – It was a comeback kind of day for the Colorado Sapphires 16U squad.
They began their day by rallying for a 9-4 win over Ice Silver 16U-Workman in the early game. Then, they finished it by coming from behind once again, this time from a five-run deficit to knock off the Ohana Tigers Indian (California) by a score of 9-5 to complete Box Bracket A play in the Colorado Fireworks.
For five innings, the Sapphires were held scoreless. They hit some balls hard, but they were right at defenders. And other times, the Tigers made superb defensive plays.
But then the top of the sixth inning happened and the whole game turned around. With the Tigers leading 5-0 and appearing to be headed to a comfortable victory, the Sapphires’ offense came alive.
It started with two consecutive walks and then Isabelle DiNapoli hit a single and the bases were loaded. Things started out slow and gradually built up to the big hits. A fielder’s choice scored Avery Panozzo and the Sapphires were on the board with the score 5-1.
Still four runs to go and two outs to work with.
That’s when things got interesting. Eve Dalla hit an RBI single to left for another run. Then with the bases juiced, Alexia Martinez ripped a ball to left and two more runs scored. In seemingly the blink of an eye, the score was 5-4.
“We’d been hitting balls hard right at them and they played really good defense,” coach Jeff Pigati said. “They made a number of plays to stop rallies. We got the first couple of runners on and you could sense the momentum moving our way.”
Following the Sapphires’ third walk of the inning, Caroline Pigati delivered another hit to left to knot the game up at five. Hits were coming from up-and-down the lineup as Tori Gardner subbed in as a pinch hitter and came up with the based loaded again. She delivered a two-run base hit that would put the Sapphires ahead for both the first and last time.
“It was really exciting and great to see our team work together so well,” pitcher Madison Shepard said. “Everyone really contributed.”
For good measure, Panozzo delivered a two-out base hit that extended the lead to four and completed a wild nine-run inning. DiNapoli, who came on in relief of Shepard in the pitching circle, retired three batters in order in the sixth to end the game after the game clock had expired.
“That’s one of the most rewarding things in this, “Jeff Pigati said. “When we talk to the girls we preach that nothing is ever over until it’s over and to just keep fighting and keep grinding. Eventually, when you breakthrough, it’s just fantastic. That’s one of the hallmarks of this team. We never give up and you never know what’s going to happen until the last out of the game. Fortunately, today it worked out for us.”
It can’t be understated how valuable of an experience that first game was, either. Having faced a deficit not even two hours before and finding a way to rally was a familiar situation for the Sapphires. They knew there was no reason to press the panic button and that with enough quality at-bats, a big inning was just around the corner.
Jeff Pigati said the first game was “almost a carbon-copy” of the win over the Tigers. It wasn’t too difficult to draw on that experience as the comeback began.
“This is kind of how we play anyway but when you just did it a couple hours ago, it’s a lot easier to believe in yourself,” he said.
Siana Sanvicente had a two-run hit in the fourth for the Tigers and pitcher Nicole Antuna tossed several scoreless innings as the starter before being replaced later in the game.
The Sapphires, a local Colorado team featuring players from around the Denver area, were thrilled with their performance Wednesday. And one of their goals, as their tournament schedule winds down for the summer, is to play their best softball now.
“We want this to be our peak of the season where we play our best as a team,” Shepard said.
And these two comeback wins are certainly helping in working towards that goal.
WESTMINSTER, Colo. - The 18U Fireworks Power Pool championship featured two teams known for their offensive fire power. Texas Glory and Louisville Lady Sluggers both were tested early by rough innings allowing their opponent to bat around and exchanging the lead on multiple occasions. In what became a mile high shootout by games end, it was Louisville prevailing as champions, 12-10, on Wednesday afternoon at Christopher Field Softball Complex.
"This is a marathon not a sprint," said Louisville head coach Jim Huecker of his teams resiliency. "We have already had some big wins in this tournament and the team has really jelled to the point where we know we can do some big things."
Louisville jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the top of the first after chasing Glory starter Maddie Boyd, who failed to record an out through five batters. The inning was capped off by Louisville starting pitcher Nijaree Canady's line drive double to left that plated two. By innings end, the Lady Sluggers sent twelve batters to the plate and recorded five hits.
"Sometimes when we score a bunch of runs we tend to get comfortable, but against the teams in this tournament you can't ever get comfortable," said Huecker of his team's hot start.
In the top of the third inning, it was Texas Glory's turn to bat around the order. Texas took advantage of an inning opening error at shortstop and followed it with six hits, capped off by a two-out two RBI single by right fielder Hailey Morgan cutting the lead to 6-5 and marking the end of the day for Canady on the mound.
The bottom half of the third brought more offense for Louisville, who tacked on another run to give the Lady Sluggers some cushion after an RBI double to left center off the bat of right fielder Pickle Winkler making the score 7-5.
That cushion did not last long, as Texas came out firing in the top of the fifth inning to take a 10-7 lead capped off by a three-run moon shot to left by shortstop Riley Love.
When the Lady Sluggers found themselves with the bases loaded in the bottom half of the inning, it was Glory relief pitcher Savannah Desrochers who came through with a pivotal strikeout to escape the threat.
Canady spearheaded the final rally in the bottom of the sixth with a mammoth shot to dead center to pull the Lady Sluggers within two runs making it 10-8. The hit parade continued three batters later when third basemen & Purdue commit Cora Bassett tattooed a three-run bomb over the left center wall putting Louisville back in charge for good, 12-10.
"One big swing by Nija there and we were right back in it and going," said coach Huecker.
"We have won three close games now (in the tournament) and I am super proud of the team right now," said Bassett. "We got a little cocky when we were up six runs early but at the end there we realized it was time for us to win this."
The 18U Power Pool Champions Lady Sluggers and runner-up Texas Glory will look to keep their hot bats and momentum going into the remainder of 18u Fireworks action.
By Michael Roley
AURORA, Colo – It may seem counterintuitive to the intense nature of sports. And maybe even more so in a competitive and intense tournament like the Colorado Fireworks.
But sometimes, it just helps to take a deep breath and relax.
This was one approach at the plate for the Wheatland Spikes 16U during their Box Bracket B game Tuesday afternoon against Aces Express 16U Prospects.
And did it ever work.
The Spikes left little doubt as they slugged their way to a 15-1 win at Olympic Park. They hit two long home runs and sent a number of hard-hit balls into gaps and to the fence. By the end of the third inning, the Spikes had a commanding 7-1 lead.
“The best thing is to just relax,” said Abby Kammeyer, who ripped an RBI double off the fence in the top of the fourth. “And just get out of your own head.”
Of course, this is much easier said than done. And there’s no one-size-fits-all method to settle in comfortably at the plate. But as the Spikes mentioned afterward, being patient is usually a step in the right direction. After all, when you’re more relaxed at the dish, it seems like you’d be more prone to wait for the right pitch.
“I have a plan up there and first pitch, if its not where I want it then I’m not going to swing at it,” Carly Engelhardt said, who launched a three-run home run in the top of the third.
The Spikes went down in order to start the game and then the Aces took an early 1-0 lead in their half of the first. That would be the only run of the afternoon as starting pitcher Adyson Slayback kept the Aces’ bats in check throughout the game.
In some ways, it was a crescendo offensively for the Spikes. They got three runs in the second courtesy of a Gab Drager RBI double to put the Spikes on the board. A well-executed sacrifice fly by Morgan Rau rounded out the scoring and the Spiked led 3-1.
The crescendo ramped up in the third with Engelhardt’s three-run blast. A few batters later Lauren Luna hit a solo bomb of her own to left field and the Spikes were in control with a 7-1 lead.
Finally, in the bottom of the fifth, the Spikes plated seven runs. Luna hit a two-run single to bring her RBI total to three for the game. Rau also knocked in two more runs with a hard single to left. They even scored when Megan Adamek was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Teaghen Amwoza rounded out the scoring with another double off the fence in the fifth that brought the score to 15-1. The Spikes retired the Aces in order in the bottom half of the fifth to end the game.
Combine the offensive outburst with a stellar pitching performance and efficient defense, and it was a complete effort from the Spikes.
“They bounced back from our last game where we didn’t hit too well and left a lot of runners on base,” head coach Russ Rau said. “They hit well with runners in scoring position. And then our pitching, they got a run in the first inning and then our pitching locked it down for the next four innings and didn’t give them anything.”
On the weekend, the Spikes are now 3-0-1 with a 2-2 yesterday being the only non-win. This offensive showcase was a step in the right direction for achieving what the Spikes want to do at the Fireworks.
“We went to advance deep and get the girls exposure to the coaches around,” assistant coach Bobby Drager said. “Now it’s bracket and survive and advance. The goal is to get to Sunday. That’s a good way to end the day with tomorrow off. It’s something good to think about tomorrow before coming back Friday ready to work.”
By Adam Dunivan
WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- After a quietly efficient day with the bats on Tuesday, the 18U Elite 1 Prospects Silva/Gaeta (Southern California) seemed to be in seek-and-destroy mode at Wednesday's 18U Triple Crown Sparkler play at the Tepper ballfields in Westminster.
As a result, it's been a picture-perfect 4-0 start for the team in just its third year of existence at this level of play.
Wednesday's back-to-back efforts for E1 included 11-6 and 9-1 victories, the 20 combined runs smashing their Tuesday output of seven total runs. And at the heart of Wednesday's heavy-hitting display was Keilei Garcia, one of the team's 'Day 1' members alongside Carlie Williams and Ulani Jonston.
"The team was hitting and we were backing each other up on the field, and really this whole tournament's just going good for us so far," said Garcia, who produced two home runs on the day and drove in four runs in their second game, a victory over Advanced Fastpitch Academy (Overland Park, Kans.).
For Garcia, the feeling of getting two tighterwins and Tuesday helped the calming process of being involved in one of their biggest tournaments of the year. This was, after all, the first time the squad had traveled out of California for tournament action this spring/summer.
The 2019 third baseman, who will attend and play for Division II Angelo State (Texas) this fall, doesn't have the pressure of playing good to attract recruiters, but she knows her play engages the team's effort to draw those colleges to their field for others to be seen. After E1 dispatched of AFA Wednesday, one of the team's coaches brought out a stack of business cards from college coaches to make a poignant statement about why they traveled.
"It's eye-opening, really," Garcia said. "For E1, starting as a little organization and going to this, we're making a name out there and coaches are cancelling other plans to come out and see our girls. It's just really good."
Wednesday's game against AFA was not pristine, but close. Garcia opened the scoring with a two-run home run to dead center in the bottom of the second, and then in the bottom of the fourth found a hole past second base for a two-run single to make it 4-0. In the fifth, E1 scratched up a five-spot with key hits coming from 2020 Celeste Paniagua and Jonston, and heads-up baserunning from a new addition to the team, 2020 Korinne Gutierrez.
This came immediately after Advanced Fastpitch Academy's best early scoring opportunity. In the top of the fifth, 2022 Libby Hawks narrowly missed a three-run home run with a foul ball to left field, and a throw out of a potential base-stealer ended the threat.
E1 pitching did just enough to curtail a couple of late innings with baserunners on for AFA (2-2), who managed to push across its lone run of the game in the sixth inning.
Of their 4-0 start, head coach Frank Silva of E1 said that this is one of the best starts his club has gotten off to at the Sparkler. The tournament continues Friday, but the organization was going to gather all its teams together for a Wednesday workout before going off and having some fun, just to keep the competitive edge.
"We have three girls that came here originally, and they were all big-time players that could have gone to any organization and played," Silva said of the three pillars Garcia, Williams and Jonston. "But they've given us the opportunity to help us become what we've become and help us where we're going.
"In this tournament, it's the best start so far. We've gotten into Saturday and come up short in some tough games. This group here, they've always been fighters."