by Kyle Koso
AURORA, Colo. — For a while, the offenses for the teams in the 18u Power Pool finale were strangely confined Sunday at Aurora Sports Park. But the breakout moment felt inevitable.
Sure enough, with both the Athletics Mercado-Smith and Texas Bombers Gold rosters packed with powerful bats and a slew of Division-I commits, claiming the high ground at the Colorado 4th of July event would require rising to the occasion at the plate. In the eighth inning, the Athletics came up with the best, final answer, wrapping up an 11-10 victory when courtesy runner Baylee Howley scored on a flyout, in foul territory, off the bat of Kanisha Anderson.
The teams combined for one run through three innings before the dam burst, with five lead changes making it impossible to predict the result.
“This game, really, almost came down to the coin flip at the beginning to see who would be the home team, with the bats in their hands last,” said Athletics coach David Mercado. “The Bombers are a quality team, so are we, and at the end of the day it’s two great teams going at it. Normally by now, people are tired, it’s been a long week, but to see that fight and scrap by both teams, you can’t ask for anything else.”
The Bombers took their first lead, 3-1 after the top of the fourth, and the Athletics certainly seemed motivated in the moment, getting home runs from Kaila Pollard (heading to Florida this fall), Jordan Woolery (UCLA) and Jasmyn Burns (Ohio State) to move ahead, 6-3. The Bombers had another answer with four runs in the fifth, forcing a pitching change and getting well-timed hits from Destiny Rodriguez (Tennessee), Aiyana Coleman (Texas A&M) and Maci Bergeron (LSU) along the way. That inning might have swayed the game, but Kaylee Oh (San Diego) reeled in a difficult catch for the Athletics in left field with two outs and the bases loaded to keep things close.
In the bottom of the fifth, Kaylynn Jones homered, Woolery scored on a wild pitch, and the Athletics were up, 8-7. The first four batters for the Bombers reached in the top of the seventh, and the wind began howling out straight to left field — Abigail Savoy (LSU) tied the game with a single, and Avery Hodge (Oklahoma) put the Bombers up, 9-8, with a groundout.
Would there be drama in the bottom of the seventh as the Athletics hoped to rally? Uh, not really, as Mya Perez blasted a home run on the first pitch to knot it at 9-all.
“I’ve been in a lot of situations like that before, so honestly, my job there is to get on base anyway I can,” Perez said. “My previous at-bats, I didn’t get on, and my teammates were picking me up, saying “Mya, it’s your time.’ I felt confident, and any pitch I saw that was right there, I’d put all my power into it, hit it hard.”
“That’s a special bat and a special right there — Mya knows how to barrel balls, and she doesn’t miss them very often,” Mercado said. “Once that happened, I didn’t have any doubts about winning, although I didn’t think we’d have to go another inning.”
Indeed, a surprising line-drive double play doused hopes for another run, and the game moved to extra innings. The Bombers got one run on a groundout from Reagan Jones (Texas A&M); the Athletics countered in the bottom of the eighth as Burns singled in Alyssa Hovermale (Florida) to tie it, again.
“In the (eighth) there, I try to stay confident, and I’m thinking, hit the first, best pitch that comes to me,” said Burns, who had three hits and four RBI in the game. “I thought that pitch was pretty good, maybe I was bit early, but I got enough contact to get it through. Your goal is to win every national championship that you’re in, and we got it done.”
Anderson got down to her final strike in her at-bat; she lifted a ball to left field, and with it drifting toward the fence, Howley was able to score without a play at the plate when the ball was caught.
Mercado highlighted the play of his three seniors, Woolery, Pollard and Lauryn Borzilleri (Kentucky). Hodge reached base three times and drove in two runs for the Bombers. Keely Williams (Texas A&M) reached base three times and scored twice; Rodriguez doubled and drove in two runs.