By Adam Dunivan
WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- There was nothing mystical about the run to the 2019 18U Colorado Sparkler championship for Illusions Gold Villegas.
Simply put, all three phases of the game came to play for the entire week, and coach George Villegas's team from Texas had a Sunday championship bracket run that rivaled anything the organization had ever done previously at this nationally renowned tournament.
It concluded at the Tepper Fields with a 4-1 win over a good Firecrackers Humble (Huntington Beach, Calif.) -- the biggest hit supplied by Caleigh Robinson in the first inning as she smacked a three-run home run to give her team an early lead.
Pitcher Taryn Westbrook and the defense behind her made that stand up.
"We knew after (the quick start) that our energy was going to be up and that we were fine, and with the defense behind me I just knew things were going to turn out okay," Westbrook said after the game ended and celebration began. "(The tournament) was amazing. This whole week we've been hitting and scoring so many runs. And we've gotten so much closer as a team, so I'm glad we went out like this."
"It was really special, coming all the way from Texas to do this, and just all the work we've put in and some things we've gone through, we've fought through and this is a high point for us," added Avalon Sanchez, who had two hits and drove in the team's fourth run, in the third inning.
The team won nine straight games to take the title, squeaking past Texas Elite Fastpitch Ryan 5-4 in the semifinals. Only two other games of theirs were close ... until the championship tilt.
The Firecrackers, who played seven games in the final two days of the tournament in order to reach the championship, put together good at-bats in almost all of their seven innings against the Illusions, including loading the bases in each of the first two innings. But Westbrook managed to escape each of those situations was minimal damage as the Firecrackers were only able to plate a single run, that coming in the second frame when Terra Goetz drove home Lily Gallardo with a groundball out.
Tim Humble's team continued to get baserunners early in innings, but the squad just couldn't come up with the big base knock that could keep them in it.
"I think we had runners in scoring position with less than two outs in our first five innings, and we scored one run," Humble said. "Their pitcher threw a good game, moved the ball in the zone up and down on us, and we just didn't get any hits. She out-pitched us."
"We had really good pitching, and with Taryn being able to get ahead in counts it allowed us to be able to throw different pitches in the strike zone that got the batters to bait to them," Sanchez said. "We had solid defense, and we knew they could field anything that was hit to them."
The Firecrackers had one last chance to make a game of it in the bottom of the seventh inning and Alexis Clancy made it interesting with a one-out base hit to bring up Andrea Belme. But Westbrook got her to bounce a ball to shortstop Rylee Obroski that had game ending double-play written all over it, and the execution was pristine to register the game-clinching outs.
"It was a battle on both sides, for sure," Westbrook said. "I was just trying to get that groundball so that we had a chance to get a double play, and when they actually turned it ... it was just so exciting to see that."
The Illusions will get to play closer to home as soon as July 18, taking plenty of momentum into the Triple Crown Southwest Nationals.