By Courtney Oakes
AURORA -- Madison Conley has sent double-digit softballs over the fence this week at the Colorado 4th of July tournament, but it was the one that got away that turned out to be key for her Epic Premier Smith team in Saturday's 16U Supplemental Power Pool victory.
With her team in a tie ballgame with I-5 in the fifth inning at Kennedy Softball Complex, the 2023 slugger — who leads the 16U bracket at the tournament in home runs with 10 — launched a ball to deep to center field.
But this one wouldn't make it out, as I-5 outfielder Rayne Corona nabbed it as she fell over the breakaway fence in center field for an out. Because she landed out of the field of play, however, the Epic Premier runner on first base got to advance to second. Danni Sottile followed with a base hit to drive in the go-ahead run in what turned out to be a 7-4 victory.
"I was disappointed and not disappointed, because it was a good catch, but I know that it did go over," said Conley, who also had a run-scoring single in a three-run third-inning rally and also leads the 16U division in RBI with 23.
Corona's play was certainly the defensive highlight of the game and it preserved a 4-4 tie, but Epic Premier coach Tony Smith had to appeal to the umpires to make sure his baserunner advanced.
After a consultation on the rule, the umpires allowed Braedyn Sheofee — who was pinch running for 2024 catcher Beth Damon, who opened the inning with her third single of the game — to move up.
"The rule says that any time a catch takes you out of the playing surface, it's an automatic advancement," Smith said. "That was huge, because Danni came up and got a base hit right after that. The umpires had to check with the UFC, but the call went our way."
Indeed Sottile — who knocked in a pair of runs earlier in the game — came through with a grounder up the middle to put EPIC Premier in front.
"We needed a run to get on top, so I was trying to get it," said Sottile, a Northeastern State commitment. "Close games keep us motivated and keeps us pushing. When we get way up, we kindof fall back, but when it is a close game, we keep high energy."
EPIC Premier had seen a close game get away earlier in the week — a 15-14 loss to So Cal Athletics Marinakis in which both teams had double-digit innings on offense — but tacked on some key insurance runs against I-5.
Conley led off the seventh inning with a solo home run that landed so far beyond the fence that Corona could only turn and look.
It was the latest in a series of bombs off her bat in a memorable week.
"I'm really just staying back and looking for base hits," Conley said. "If it goes over, I guess it goes over."
The next batter, 2022 Kylie Kuykendall, followed suit with her fourth homer of the week for a three-run lead and reliever Addisyn Peterson made it stand up with a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh inning.
Valencia, California-based I-5 also showed a power stroke in taking an early lead, as first baseman Casey Edwards homered in the first inning to drive in herself and Savannah Gatewood and hit a solo shot in the third inning.
I-5 starting pitcher Savannah Arreguin also drove in a run on the first of her two hits.
Smith was pleased with the fight shown by his team in addition to the power surge that has produced 20 home runs thus far going into Championship Sunday, as well as a .453 team batting average that is fourth-best in the 16U group.
"We have 20 home runs so far in five games, which is keeping us in it," Smith said. "When you have that kind of hitting and score those kinds of runs, you get a little bit of pitching and defense and it'll keep you in a lot of games."
I-5 had to turn around and play the AZ Hotshots Day, while Epic Premier advanced to an 8 a.m. contest on Sunday at the Aurora Sports Park against a yet-to-be determined opponent.