By Courtney Oakes
AURORA, Colo. -- Until the hot bats got fully lit, the Indiana Magic just had to hang around in Saturday afternoon’s 16U Supplemental Power Pool contest at the Colorado 4th of July event.
Coach Bill Neace knew the offensive explosion was coming and it finally arrived in the fourth inning of the Magic’s contest against the hot-starting Empire State Huskies in a sun-splashed meeting at the Kennedy Sports Complex.
A five-run rally pushed Indiana in front for a 9-7 victory that moved the Carmel-based program to 6-1 going into the final day of the tournament. Sydney Vitangcol, Logan Rumble and Jayden Kleiner each had base hits that brought in two runs and Jaylynn Hobbs had the go-ahead single in the fourth for the Magic.
“We knew that if we stayed close, we would have a shot,” Neace said. “Our bats have been pretty hot the last three or four games. We started slow, but we kept it within reach and then struck when we needed to. …The good part about this team is they do not give up. If you just walk up to watch us play, you would not know the score of the game. We fight until the end.”
It was also possible not to know the score given the scoreboard in the outfield was dark, but the Magic themselves knew they had their work cut out for them with a 7-4 deficit against Empire State going into the bottom of the fourth inning with time getting short in the contest that was limited to 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Confidence gained from a rally from a 3-0 deficit the previous day in a 7-4 win over AASA-Swickard/McCafferty paid off for the Magic, which collected three hits, pressured the Huskies defense into a pair of errors and scored five times.
Kami Arnett walked to lead off the pivotal frame against Empire State reliever Madyson Bull — who came on after Amelia Jacob pitched three effective innings — Peyton Dwigins reached as she was hit by a pitch and Lilly Heath walked to load the bases. Kleiner — who had reached in both of her previous at-bats via a walk and a single — doubled in a pair of runs against Jacob (who was reinserted) to tie the game and advanced to third on an errant throw home.
“I was just looking to get something to the outfield, a hard groundball or anything to get the girls in who got on in front of me,” Kleiner said.
Kleiner scored her third run of the game when Hobbs tagged a ball into the gap in left center field to put Indiana in front 8-7. Vitangcol followed with a well-struck single and Hobbs pushed the issue and scored on a throw that sailed over the catcher to the backstop.
“Our coaches were just talking about how we’ve had perseverance this whole tournament and I think that’s how we got through it,” Kleiner added.
Once in the lead relievers Chloe Tanner and Vitangcol, who went 3-for-3, including a two-run single in the first inning, held Empire State scoreless in the fifth and the game reached its time limit with the Magic batting in the bottom of the inning.
It was a rare scoreless frame for the Huskies, who were difficult to deal with offensively in the early going. Leadoff hitter Alyssa Platero especially vexed Indiana.
Platero homered in each of the first two innings — a solo shot to left center field on the first pitch of the game and a two-run blast to center in the second inning — and in between, the Huskies played small ball.
Four consecutive bunts — which included a successful squeeze by Sydney Benware — flustered the Magic’s defense and helped create a four-run inning.
A failed bunt, twice in the same at-bat, oddly produced two more runs for Empire State in the fourth. With Benware aboard with a single, No. 9 hitter Ava Lichtenberger twice tried to lay down sacrifice bunts, but fouled off both attempts to go down in the count 1-2. Lichtenberg then swung away and drilled a pitch over the left center field to put her team in front 7-4.
The Magic have suffered just one loss in seven games (which came to Team North Carolina Thursday) and now turn their attention towards the final day of the tournament.
“We get the rest of the day off to rest up and get ready for hopefully a long day tomorrow,” said Neace, whose team opens championship bracket play with an 8 a.m. contest at Kennedy Sports Complex against Premier Fastpitch.
Added Kleiner: “If we do what we did today, persevere and pick each other up, we can go far.”
Empire State, which hails from the Yorktown Heights, New York area, dropped to 4-3 in the tournament. The Huskies have an 8 a.m. contest at Kennedy Sports Complex on Sunday against Centex Buzz Gold.
It would take three wins for either team to advance to the championship game at 2 p.m.