By Alissa Noe
ERIE -- Alabama owns Colorado’s Fourth of July Sparkler Juniors softball tournament.
Through a large field of teams from every corner of the country, just two made it to the 14U championship game on Sunday afternoon at the Ballpark at Erie. Both came from the Birmingham Thunderbolts Premier organization. Each squad traveled a distance of over 1,300 miles to face friends, but the Kaplan Bolts got the better of the Burns Bolts in the end with a 7-6 final.
“This organization is about development, so the players that we have in the 14U age group, we believe, are some of the best in the country,” Burns Bolts head coach Quan Green said. “It’s a testament to our coaching staff, parents and players believing in what we preach.”
From start to finish, either of the two Bolts teams could have walked away victorious. The Burns Bolts got on the board first, then the Kaplan Bolts took a 5-1 lead by the end of the second inning. The Burns Bolts closed that gap completely in the top of the third frame, tying things up at five all.
The Kaplan Bolts earned a 6-5 advantage in the bottom of the same inning off of a wild pitch, and their defense held firm until the top of the sixth, at which point the hour and 45 minute time limit had already passed.
“It was awesome. We really had a blast.” Kaplan Bolts coach Justin Kaplan said. “This group, they’ve gotten punched and every time they get punched, they seem to punch back. It’s been truly awesome to watch. It’s a group of kids that just absolutely loves playing softball together and it shows every time they come out on the field.”
The Kaplan Bolts needed just three outs in the top of the sixth inning to put their friends away, but the Burns Bolts weren’t ready to go home just yet. Following two walks and aggressive base running, the Burns Bolts managed to tie the game back up at 6-6. They scored the crucial run after the Kaplan Bolts’ first baseman dropped the ball to allow the runner to take her base.
That mishap allowed Gaby Mizelle to cross home plate safely, but the Kaplan Bolts ended the frame just seconds later when they got the runner out at third.
“We were able to put it away because we knew that our offense had us,” Kaplan’s pitcher Lillie McWhorter said. “We faced it like this during the first game and we just knew that if we had faith in each other and that we made contact with the ball, it was going to go (our way). We just had to put runners in scoring position and that’s what we did.”
All the Kaplan Bolts needed was one run to walk away with the championship banner. That’s exactly what happened.
Ellie Partrick began the bottom of the sixth with a smooth base hit. Edith Kaplan followed up with a sacrifice bunt to advance her teammate to second base. Abi Bunt—who led with three RBIs—shot the ball into the center field gap to bring Partrick home and to end the game without going into extras.
Now, both Bolts will get to travel 1,300 miles back home with some serious hardware to boast about.
“Just seeing it go through and knowing that Ellie’s going around, it was just one of those feelings that hits hard in your heart. With the dugout staying hyped and giving you that hype to just do whatever you need to do is big,” Bunt said. “We’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives. We see them at practice in two days.”