With all the excitement and festivities surround the 2018 Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks, it would have been easy to forget the importance of box bracket play in the 16u open division. SoCal 3D Gold, however, arrived at Pioneer Park with a focused and determined look on their faces, securing two important wins, including a 7-5 victory over Atlanta Premier to grab first place in Pool AY.
“It’s always a challenge getting these girls out of bed and focused early in the morning,” said head coach Mike Klepfer. “They were ready to go today, and it paid off tremendously.”
Squeezing past the Oklahoma Blaze, 7-4, SoCal regrouped for a second of a back-to-back against an Atlanta Premier team that rolled to a 14-4 win over The Warriors. Energized by an easy win in game one, Atlanta quickly loaded the bases, prompting coach Klepfer to lean on Jenna Rorick to get out of the jam.
“My job was to just go in there and throw strikes,” said Rorick. “I knew that I had good teammates behind me and if I did my job, we’d get out of there still in the ballgame.”
Only two runs crossed the plate in that opening frame, giving 3D Gold an opportunity to cut into the lead.
SoCal’s chance wouldn’t arrive until the bottom of the second inning when Julie Guzman stepped to the plate.
“I was trying to be as disciplined as I could be,” explained Guzman. “They were certainly trying to get me out of my comfort zone. When they pitch you inside, you have to let the outside go. That’s exactly what I did and I was able to deliver for the team.”
Guzman’s single started a two-run second inning which also saw an RBI double from Rorick that tied the game at two.
Atlanta Premier jumped back on top with two runs in the third frame, but the resilient SoCal squad battled back for another game-tying effort in the fourth. RBI singles from Guzman and Amanda Carey flipped swung the momentum back in favor of 3D Gold.
“We were down at some point in both games today,” Klepfer said. “Both times these girls battled back and showed their true grit.”
Back on defense, SoCal and Rorick settled into a groove. Between the fourth and sixth innings, Rorick gave up just one hit and struck out one while letting her defense combine for the other eight putouts.
Needing three outs in the top of the seventh inning to secure the number one seed, Rorick put the game in the hands of her defense one last time. After giving up a lead-off double, Atlanta continued to apply the pressure, tallying another base hit to bring Premier within two, 7-5.
Two batters and a strikeout later, Atlanta had the bases loaded, the go-ahead run on first and was down to its last strike. A long fly ball hit deep to center field in the direction of Julie Guzman had all in attendance on their feet. Guzman, to the delight of the 3D gold faithful, squeezed the final out, ending the game.
“As soon as that ball went in the air, I knew (Guzman) was going to catch it,” said Rorick. “She’s made that play a hundred times in practice and I had no doubt she was going to make it then.”
As the number one seed out of its pool, SoCal enjoys a high seed in the Mt. Elbert bracket and an easier path than most to the championship bracket. With plenty of road ahead of them, 3D Gold aims to enjoy the victory while taking the tournament one step at a time.
“It’s a lot to manage between showcases and tournament games,” said Klepfer. “We have 18 girls on our roster and we’ll look to get everyone some playing time and continue to win games.”