by Alissa Noe
WESTMINSTER — MOJO-AZ Vela may have left the desert, but they certainly brought the heat with them.
On Thursday afternoon at Tepper Fields, during the 18U Sparkler softball tournament, the team from Phoenix brought the fire at the plate early before routing Mid-MO Evolution with a 14-1 final.
The Evolution, in defeat, achieved something no other team had through the Colorado 4th of July competition. They scored on a team that will enter Friday with a perfect 4-0 record. It couldn’t have happened at a better time for MOJO.
“They're gelling at the right time,” head coach Rey Vela said. “A lot of these girls are new to us — half the team is — and they're just family-oriented. We took everybody in at the same time and just became a family real quick. With that happening, that helped us elevate our game a little bit.”
Amid a team of hard-core sluggers, no player stood out more than Haleigh Reed, who homered in each of her two first inning at-bats, including a grand slam, to net six RBI in the first frame alone. She added one more a couple innings later to further dominate the diamond.
The MOJO scored their first run on a catcher error in the bottom of the first, then unleashed Reed. She began her day with a two-run homer over the left field wall, but the bases didn't stay clear for long. The next two batters got on base via singles before Rachel Kates sent them both home on her own base hit.
Bailey Bencs, in the next at-bat, added to the slug fest with her own moon shot to send in two more scores. Not to be outdone, Reed then ended the first frame with a grand slam to give her team an 11-0 edge heading into the second.
“It was definitely exciting. It was something that has never happened before,” Reed said. “I've never had at least two home runs in one game either. In one inning is even better. That was my first grand slam.”
MOJO didn't stop there.
Bencs added to her stat sheet with a two-run double in the bottom of the second to further bury the Evolution 13-0. Mid-MO finally managed to respond in the top of the third with — what else? — a solo bomb from Avery Deprima over the left-center fences.
Reed responded in the bottom of the same inning with an RBI sac fly to make it 14-1.
With the victory, MOJO will enter the next phase of the double-elimination Mt. Elbert bracket as the No. 2 seed on Friday. They've already more than proven their stock among the best teams in the competition, and hope to continue to do so under the watchful eyes of college coaches.
“I tell them to stay within themselves, don't get excited,” Vela said. “Runs will come and it'll happen to us once in a while. Hopefully not, but they've been seeing the ball well, and when one is down, they all try to pick each other up. They say, ‘Hey, you got the next one. I'm going to pick you up now. It's my turn to hit the ball.’”