By Courtney Oakes
AURORA -- Don Murphy has the need, the need for speed.
And his Louisville Sluggers 16U squad has plenty of it, plus a lot more.
Those things were evident Thursday evening despite only three at-bats for the Sluggers in their 16U Power Pool TV game against FC Brashear Smith RB at the Colorado 4th of July tournament. Only a pelting rain that made conditions dangerous enough that both coaching staffs agreed to end the game with the Sluggers up 9-1 could slow them down.
“It’s fun, we have a really, really fast team and we’re going to put a lot of pressure on,” Murphy said after his team improved to 6-0. “We may get thrown out once or twice, but we’re going to keep going.”
Indeed, the Sluggers got thrown out being aggressive in their first at-bat, as Murphy waived Katherine Murphy — no relation — home from second base on a hard-hit ball to center field, only to have her thrown out on a perfect throw from FC Brashears Smith center fielder Nanea Kyle.
“I was hoping the ball would have been wet when it hit the grass, but she fielded it and threw an absolute beebee,” Murphy said. “It was a great play but we’re going to continue to press. If they make plays, I’ll tip my hat.”
After the throw-out at the plate, the Sluggers found themselves still down 1-0 after their Ontario, California-based opponent showed aggression of their own in the opening inning when 2023 Marissa Morales singled, stole second base, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on 2023 Makenna Coleman’s single.
The Sluggers would pile up nine runs in their last two at-bats — with 2023 catcher Brenna Sherman knocking in six of them — but they needed a little help.
With Valerie Combs and Tinley Easton aboard and two outs, Meghan Heinsman hit a grounder that should have ended the inning, but she beat out a throw to first after the FC Brashears second baseman bobbled the ball, allowing a run to score.
A drag bunt dropped down by leadoff speedster Delani Sullivan with two strikes loaded the bases and prompted a pitching change, with the FC Brashears reliever walking Katherine Murphy ahead of serving up a rocket grand slam off the bat of Sherman. Three more hits and two more runs later, the Sluggers were in command.
They plated two more runs in the third inning when Zoe Davis walked and moved up on a grounder, Sullivan singled again and stole second and they both came home as Sherman lashed a single just inside the first base bag.
“We’ve been really aggressive this week,” said Sullivan, who had two hits in three at-bats. “We’re going to keep doing it because it’s been working. I feel like any time I get on, my team has my back.”
It made for a relatively easy day for pitcher Sophia Kleiman, who retired 10 of the last 12 hitters she faced after FC Brashers’ opening rally. Kleiman issued her only walk of the game in the top of the fourth when the ball began to get slippery.
“My catcher said just focus on you and me and pretend like nothing else is happening,” Kleiman said. “I just focused and got in my zone, threw strikes and kept them off balance.”
The Sluggers look to keep their streak going as they face a yet-to-be determined opponent in a game scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at the Aurora Sports Park.
Murphy feels great about where his team — which draws from a number of Midwestern states surrounding Kentucky — is at this point in the tournament.
The Sluggers found their offensive groove with a 13-run outburst against the Atlanta Vipers-Palazzo, then followed that with 11-run efforts against the Indiana Magic Gold and TN Mojo and were on pace for more against FC Brashears before the early stoppage.
“Our bats came alive yesterday; the first couple of games our 1-5 were hitting and now 1-9 are hitting,” Murphy said. “We’ve got really good pitching, really good defense and when we can hit like this, we’re tough to beat.”