By Michael Roley
FORT COLLINS, Colo – There was no warm-up round for the Marucci Patriots Cenla 14U team in their opening to the Junior Sparkler tournament in Fort Collins on Tuesday afternoon.
And that’s alright.
In fact, it’s a very good thing for the team based out of Alexandria, Louisiana.
They came to Colorado from their home in central Louisiana with one of their biggest goals to simply compete. And a narrow 6-5 comeback win over the Oklahoma Reds 04 in walk-off fashion provided a worthy test toward achieving that. At the same time, the Patriots didn’t expect anything to come easy. They were prepared for the challenge.
“Our kids know what they’re competing against,” head coach Logan Hebert said. It wasn’t some sloppy team. This is a good tournament and there’s a lot of good teams. Every team that we’re going to face is going to be great. I think they know that coming in. They know every game they have to fight all 21 outs and no game will be given to them.”
The Patriots fell behind 1-0 early before a two-run double by Emily Carter put them ahead 2-1 in the bottom half of the second. A back-and-forth game ensued as the Reds took the lead right back in their half of the third, clearing the bases on a base hit.
Facing a 4-2 deficit heading into the bottom half of the fourth, the Patriots then used an effective combination of power and situational hitting to tie up the game. First, Erin Stallings hit a no-doubt home run over the left-centerfield fence. Then, Carter reached on a base hit and was moved over thanks to another knock from Laryn Aymond. Cheyenne Jenkins then delivered a perfectly executed sacrifice fly on a ball to center to score Aymond and tie the game.
The Patriots weren’t done, however. Emily DeSelle ripped an RBI single to left to retake the lead at 5-4. In a fitting manner, the Reds then answered right back with a game-tying hit in the top of the fifth. With the game all locked at five, time began dwindling down on the game clock and the Patriots needed to execute when the opportunity presented itself. In the bottom of the sixth, Carter led off with a walk, then an excellent bunt by Jenkins that danced with the third base line had runners on first and third with just one out.
Previously, the umpire had just announced that time had expired, and this inning was to be finished. One run and the game was over. Two outs without a run and such a well-played game would end in an awkward tie.
DeSelle alleviated all of that as she delivered an infield shot back up the middle that scored Carter and secured the Patriot win.
“Coming through when we needed to the most. The game was on the line and the other team put pressure on us but that didn’t really stop our team from competing,” Hebert said. “They fought all the way through. If they had given up in the first inning, the game could have gone completely different. I just got done telling them that details are everything. And when you compete with good teams, it’s the details that matter the most in every game you play.”
In such a back-and-forth, hotly contested game with multiple lead changes, there’s bound to be emotional swings. But the Patriots were able to assist each other through them.
“We were good at picking each other up and when we needed each other to just do our jobs,” second baseman Traxtyn Finney said. “We work well together and even in tight situations we pull through a lot.”
As nice as Tuesday’s opening game win was, it just the first test. There will be others to come and Coach Hebert and her team know that. And while they certainly passed with a satisfactory grade, there is still plenty left to improve upon.
“I think we can definitely be better on the effort and executing when we need it most,” Herbert said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do this next game and kick it into gear.”