by Thomas Hoffman
The Mizuno Storm won two consecutive one-run games just to earn itself a spot in the Sparkler Juniors 14u Power Pool Championship. No such heroics were needed against Lady Lightning Futures, however, as the Storm capped off a championship run Sunday with a tidy 10-2 victory.
“We kept the pressure on all week long,” said coach Ronnie Holtorf. “We were aggressive at the plate, on the bases and came up with some huge clutch hits. By the end of the week, I think we were starting to get in team’s heads.”
Following a narrow 1-0 victory over American Pastime, the Mizuno Storm faced a Lady Lightning squad that was coming off a thrilling shootout win, 10-8, over American Freedom. Eager to set the tone early, Holtorf tabbed his veteran and winner of the 2016 12u Sparkler Juniors, McKenna Feringa, to start in the circle.
“All three of these pitchers are the backbone of this team,” said Holtorf. “They all pitched great this week and today was no different for (McKenna).”
Feringa kicked off the contest with back-to-back strikeouts. After a two-out double, the lefty forced a groundout to end the inning, sending her offense to the plate.
“Today was a combination of two things,” said Feringa. “I had to trust my spins and let my defense work behind me. I knew I had a great defense and when I trusted what I was throwing, things started to click.”
Mizuno wasted zero time capitalizing on scoring opportunities in the bottom of the first inning. Lead-off hitter Rylee Holtorf drew a walk, and after two straight stolen bases, came around to score on a BriAnna Brooks single.
“It’s part of our mentality,” explained Logan Cole, who finished with three stolen bases on the afternoon. “Once we get on base, we give our best effort to get home as quick as we can.”
Feringa quieted Lady Lightning again in the second inning and promptly led the bottom half of the frame off with a single. Four batters later, Cole’s RBI single gave the Storm a 2-0 lead.
After a quick third inning for both defenses, tensions began to rise in the top of the fourth. Lady Lightning loaded the bases with two outs, seeking a game-tying base hit in a crucial moment. Fortunately for the Mizuno Storm faithful, Trinity Nichols’ line drive hit the runner on first base square in the leg, ending the inning.
“You have to be lucky to win tournaments like these,” said Holtorf. “We’ve had our fair share of lucky moments in this tournament. Credit to these girls, they took advantage every time.”
Sensing the air leaking out of Lady Lightning’s tires, the Storm erupted for a huge bottom of the fourth inning. Sending 10 total batters to the plate, Mizuno combined for six runs, including a two-RBI single from Feringa, breaking open the game, 8-0.
“We could sense a little fatigue from (Lady Lightning),” said Feringa. “I was able to stay patient enough to find my pitch and deliver in a big moment.”
Despite playing its seventh game in two days, Lady Lightning showed no signs of throwing in the towel. The Lightning pushed two across in the bottom of the fifth, keeping the game alive for at least one more inning.
“That’s a tough team,” said Holtorf. “I’ve watched them all week and they never give up, ever. You have to give them credit for their resiliency.”
Needing only two runs to seal the championship, the Storm leaned on Viviana Martinez. With Rylee Holtorf standing on second after a double, Viviana matched Holtorf’s effort with a double of her own but the speedy Martinez wouldn’t stop there. Two consecutive errors from Lady Lightning gave her the window of opportunity to round third and slide head-first into home, sealing the 14u Power Pool title, 10-2.
“We’ve wanted to match what (Feringa) did here two years ago for some time now,” said Cole. “Leaving here as champions is a great feeling.”
“To come back here two years later and do it again with this amazing group of teammates is incredible,” Feringa said.