By Michael Roley
LOVELAND, Colo -- Throughout pool play, the Eugene Lightning 04 were waiting patiently for that breakthrough moment.
They had lost their first three games of the 14U Open division of the Junior Sparkler, including two nail-biters by one run. But eventually, their patience paid off Thursday afternoon and that wonderful breakthrough moment came as they rolled to a 10-2 win over Gameday Xtreme in five innings.
The Lightning (Eugene, Oregon) fell behind early 2-1 after the first inning, but as they have throughout the tournament, they stayed the course.
“It was really nice to comeback,” said starting pitcher Malia Williams said. “We got down in the beginning and just battled back.”
Earlier in the day, the Lightning dropped a close, hard-fought game to the Oklahoma Steele 04 by a score of 7-6. The players said they were a little slow at the start offensively in that one and aimed to correct that in their second game of the day.
And they did just that. After scoring one run in the first, the Lightning responded with a big second inning that scored four runs and gave them a solid 5-2 lead.
During the inning, and throughout the contest, the Lightning put plenty of traffic on the bases and played small ball to take their lead. Chelsea Rustik led off with a base hit. After that, the Lightning executed a series of textbook bunt plays. Natalie Plough bunted for a hit and Williams followed with a second consecutive bunt hit. Aaliyah Gaboriault hit a ball hard to left that was out of reach for the left fielder and two runs scored.
Brenna Wilson dropped the third excellent bunt down of the inning and beat the throw to first as another run scored. Layla Martinez hit a sacrifice fly to round out the scoring in the second.
“We get on base. I think our weakness over the last couple of weekends has been leaving a lot of runners on base,” head coach Kim Strahm said. “I think, especially the last few games, we’ve done a really good job of getting runners in scoring position and then scoring them.”
After a scoreless third and fourth, the Lightning struck again with a big fifth inning that put the game out of reach. Martinez led off the inning with a single and from there, the offense got rolling. Molly Blanchette hit an RBI single that scored Martinez and Laurel McGuigan hit a ball past third that scored two more.
Rustik added another RBI on a single as the Lightning plated five runs in their final turn at the plate. Williams pitched four strong innings, allowing only two runs and zero runs after the first. Mya Guerin tossed an efficient fifth inning to close out the game.
The resiliency displayed by her team came as no surprise to Strahm, who added that the team also shows consistent energy.
“I tend to expect it,” Strahm said. “We are a very expressive group. We do a lot of cheers and try to have a lot of energy for game time and practice. These girls always found a way to comeback. I’m really proud of them.”
The Lightning’s perseverance rewarded them with an impressive win on Thursday. And that showing can only do good things for them moving forward.
“I think it’ll help us because you kind of get down if you’re losing, but I think this will help us bounce back,” Martinez said.
The Lightning begin bracket play Friday morning at 8 a.m. at Centennial Park against the Minnesota Sting.