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.