By Adam Dunivan
Being a pitcher by trade, OC Elite 16U rising sophomore Brooke Owens usually pays particular attention to the tendencies of other team's batteries. The interactions between pitcher and catcher may go unnoticed sometimes, but Owens saw it as a chance to come through as a hero of sorts in Tuesday's opening day of the Triple Crown Colorado Sparkler tournament at the Big Dry Creek Fields.
Owens, head coach Robert Diaz's ace, was responsible for the game-winning run over Team TFS STX (League City, Texas) in the sixth inning, stealing home plate in walk-off fashion on a routine post-pitch throwback to the circle, giving OC Elite (Irvine, Calif.) a hard-earned 6-5 victory and a 2-0 start to the Sparkler.
"I just saw an opportunity and I took it, because the catcher was just not even looking at third base," Owens said after scoring the winning run, which helped ease the pain of the team coughing up a 5-1 lead. "She threw back, and I went."
"That play was not even my call," Diaz said. "That was all Brooke Owens, who said 'Coach, I think I've got this' when she saw the pitcher keep turning around (after every pitch). She read that, and took it. It was a nice way for her to step up for the team. They did a nice job, and we're ready for the full Sparkler to get going."
Diaz's team, comprised of mostly uncommitted juniors and sophomores, has enjoyed a fine start to the season coming off a 2017 14U USA Softball National Western championship, and the hot start to the TC Sparkler was just what Diaz was hoping for. Earlier in the day, the team secured a more dominant 10-2 win over Extreme Elite 16U Freshmen.
With the first day's games coming against teams from a different pool -- OC Elite is competing in Pool AC -- the second game of their morning allowed a lot of girls to get in the game and gain some confidence.
Owens hit throughout the second game, but didn't come in to pitch until the fourth inning and eventually had to return to the circle in the sixth after being spelled by Olivia Lee.
After watching Team TFS STX battle back in the final three innings and tie the game at 5-5 in the top of the sixth with consecutive run-scoring singles from Janae Mitchell and Mariah Gaytan, Owens led off the bottom of the sixth with a solid single to left field. Jackie Diaz successfully bunted her to second base with two outs, and backup catcher Grace Currie singled and got to second on the throw. Sara Collazo was up to bat when Owens stole home.
OC Elite had nine hits, including a two-run double for starting catcher Jasmine Gonzales. Lee went 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI.
"It helps us get our confidence up, and we just need to keep doing what we're doing and we'll be good," Owens said. "Our first game was definitely better than our second, and we just need to play up to our level and not down to other people's levels."
"We have confidence in each other and all know what we're capable of doing," Gonzales added. "We just keep working and going until the end. We trust each other and that's what makes us a good team."
Team TFS STX, which are already qualified for the USSSA National Championships, tied the game at 1-1 thanks to a Haley Brumrich home run in the second inning and finished with nine hits, as well.