By Michael Roley
Bend but don’t break.
That was the theme of the day for the El Paso Chilis 14U team as they grinded out two wins on the opening day of the Colorado Sparkler tournament, including an 8-5 victory over the Carroll County Crush (Carrollton, Georgia) at Centennial Field in Loveland Tuesday afternoon.
Things started swimmingly for the Chilis as they jumped out to a 6-1 lead after three innings and appeared to be in control. But that was before the Crush put up a four-spot in the bottom of the sixth to make it a one-run game.
The Chilis were bending and the blood pressure of their supporters was certainly elevating, but they never broke.
Not even when the Crush loaded the bases with one out and put the go-ahead run on first in the sixth. Nor in that same inning when a hectic scene broke out on the base paths. The Crush pushed across one run on a base hit before the go-ahead runner from first found herself in a rundown between second and third.
As this was taking place, the game-tying run from third bolted for the plate, only to be tagged out on a rocket throw that preserved the Chilis’ lead at 6-5.
“This game we came up swinging it early and got a big lead and then we kind of let them hang around and hang around,” Chilis head coach Rick Solis said. “They had a big inning and got back into it. Our pitching kept us in it and then we scratched two runs across there late that gave us that cushion we needed.”
Chilis pitcher Jasmine Olivas threw all seven innings and was able to keep the Crush’s bats in check most of the afternoon. And when things got tense, and tough outs were needed, the incoming freshman came through.
After walking two consecutive batters to load the bases in the sixth, Olivas got a much-needed strikeout for the second out before the bedlam erupted on the bases and the Chilis tagged the tying run out at the plate to avert any further damage.
A bases loaded jam with one out certainly wasn’t ideal, but Olivas has no qualms about pitching through adverse situations.
“I love being in those tough situations,” Olivas said.
The Chilis lineup showed tremendous balance throughout the game. Hits and runs batted in were coming up-and-down the order. Sydney Saenz kicked things off with an RBI single in the first before Michelle Balcazar ripped an RBI double that put the Chilis ahead 3-0.
Brianna Garcia drove in two runs, including a critical triple in the seventh that extended the Chilis lead to 7-5. Mia Perez drove her in during the next at-bat to tack on another much-needed insurance run.
With everyone contributing at the dish, that can make for an enjoyable day and is almost infectious in the dugout.
“You want to keep your team up but you also want them to keep you up,” Balcazar said. “For them to keep hitting the ball is really nice to see and it just keeps rallies going and keeps everyone’s spirit up.”
The Chilis, who are making their debut at the Colorado Sparkler and Fireworks, have a cool backstory to how they landed their team name. It was inspired by a character in a Mexican TV show named La Chilindrina, which is their full team name. They go by ‘Chilis’ for short and the logo is fittingly a combination of the character from the show with a chili and a ‘C’ letter.
It’s a relatively new program, getting their start with a T-Ball and 8U team in 2012 and have expanded to seven teams now. This 14U team is their oldest squad and is now 2-0 after the first day and is sitting nicely atop the Pool X standings.
So far, they’ve enjoyed their time in Colorado and have been impressed with the format of the tournament. And of course, having two wins under their belts helps as well.
“Everything is first class from the communication leading up to the tournament to just making sure everyone knows the itinerary and where everyone is supposed to be,” Solis said.
"So far, especially when you get two wins on the first day, it’s definitely something we’ve enjoyed.”