By Courtney Oakes
Lily Holtje had big power goals for herself in the power department as her Florida Impact U18 team began play in the Colorado 4th of July tournament.
The hard-swinging Florida Impact catcher hoped to hit two balls over the wall for coach Pat Affrunti’s team for the week, but she can revise her hopes in light of the opening day Tuesday.
Holtje homered twice during a 15-2 victory over the St. Louis Chaos Mazzola at Highline Park to cap a day in which she and teammate Briana Neal had three round-trippers each and the team had a total of eight during a 2-0 start to 18U Supplemental play.
“I already passed my goal of two home runs in one day,” said a smiling Holtje, who was 3-for-3 in the final game. “I just want to keep hitting them, working with everybody and having fun.”
Affrunti’s team had all sorts of fun at the plate against the Chaos (1-1), especially during a top of the seventh inning that saw the Impact pound out 11 hits and score 10 runs to break open a three-run game.
First came the execution, as Jesiana Mora singled to open the inning and Brianna Lyall and Hannah Harper followed with well-placed bunts that vexed the St. Louis defense.
Then came the power, as Neal hammered a ball over the fence in straightaway center for a grand slam, which was followed by a second solo shot for Holtje. Six more hits followed as Harper and Lily Bridges each knocked in two runs with base hits as the inning ended with 14 hitters coming to the plate and 10 crossing it.
“That was execution,” Affrunti said. “When we called the bunt, they got it down and created havoc. When they were told to swing, they looked for balls down and launched them. They aren’t used to the Colorado air. We hit eight home runs today, which is a lot for them.”
One player that did not hit a home run — but would have liked to — was Mora, who fell only a longball away from hitting for the cycle. The shortstop and leadoff hitter doubled to open the game, singled in the third inning and tripled to open the fifth inning, which gave her two at-bats to swing for the fences.
Mora took a couple of big swings, but dropped in singles in her first two at-bats on a five-hit day in which the Florida Atlantic University recruit scored four runs and made some outstanding plays in the field as well.
“I think I tried (to swing for a home run) twice, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself,” Mora said with a laugh. “After a couple of at-bats, they tried to pitch me in different places, so I was adjusting to that. …As a leadoff hitter, it’s always going through my head to just get on base.”
Mora did her job as she made it to at least third base in all five of her times on base and scored four times in addition to stealing a base and driving in a run. Neal, Ainsley Perdicanis and Maisi Sigler had two hits apiece.
Four Impact pitchers — starter Gwendolen McGinnis, Harper, Chloe Rayner and Charley Butler — limited a St. Louis team that scored 10 runs in its opening win over So Cal Choppers Ashley to six hits and single runs in the third and sixth innings.
Leadoff hitters went a combined 8-for-8 in the game, as the Chaos’ Abby Ulsas went 3-for-3 and scored a run in the third inning on a hit by Skylinn Pogue, while a solo home run by Abby Harvell in the sixth inning represented the other run.
The path to victory followed exactly the blueprint Affrunti sets out for his team before every game.
“It’s real simple, we play the game the right way and that will usually take care of itself,” he said. “We don’t come in looking for a W, we look to have quality at-bats, make defensive plays and have pitchers hit their spots. If those three things happen, we’ll be OK.”
The Impact have back-to-back games with the Arizona Hotshots Gold-Davis and So Cal Choppers Ashley teams at noon and 2 p.m., respectively, on Wednesday, while the Chaos play the Hotshots Gold at 2 p.m.