You can’t manufacture experience.
Almost half of New Jersey Heist’s Gold roster played in and won the Colorado Sparkler tournament twice. Six games into the 2018 edition, the Heist doesn’t boast a perfect record but has won when it matters, including a 6-1 victory over All American Fastpitch on Friday afternoon, keeping them atop of the 18u Open Mt. Elbert Bracket.
Emerging as the No. 2 seed out of Pool L, New Jersey sat just three wins from earning a berth into the top championship bracket. Facing Premier Speed International early Friday morning, the Heist edged out a win in a high scoring, 9-7, affair.
“What I think you saw today was that offense cures a lot of problems,” said head coach Sergio Rodriguez. “We weren’t perfect, but we made the plays we needed to make and came up with some clutch runs.”
The first inning of New Jersey’s second of its back-to-back games against All American Fastpitch moved swiftly. Neither team able to squeak across a run, the Heist looked to break open the game in the top of the second.
Stephani Kantanas kicked the half-inning off with a single, and two batters later Ava Fernandez drove her home with an RBI base hit.
“We were seeing a lot more inside pitches than outside,” said Kantanas, who finished the game with two hits, two runs scored, an RBI and a stolen base. “When that happens, you just have to keep your momentum inwards and focus driving the ball up the middle.”
Jackie Carifi added a second run in the frame on an RBI double that scored Fernandez, giving the Heist a 2-0 advantage.
With its first lead of the contest, New Jersey’s potential victory rested in the hands of starting pitcher Cat Thomas. Thomas’ only blemish can in the bottom of the second inning on a first-pitch home run to Sheridan Wade. Despite the lone long-ball, Thomas frequently set down All American, compiling three 1-2-3 innings.
“I was relying pretty heavily on my off-speed pitches today,” said Thomas. “My curveball, screwball and changeup were all working pretty well. It helps when I am able to mix up pitches like that.”
Each team held serve until the sixth inning. Looking for a little insurance, Thomas helped herself and her team with a two-run home run.
“I was ahead in the count,” explained Thomas. “As soon as I saw my pitch, I was looking to attack it.”
New Jersey added a third run in the inning when Jackie Lara scored Fernandez on an RBI double. After starting the frame with a 2-1 lead, the Heist now held a sizable cushion, 5-1.
“You have to give a lot of credit to the way Thomas pitched today,” said Rodriguez. “We ended up scoring a few runs late, but the game was still in doubt until the sixth inning. She kept us ahead the whole time.”
Thomas quieted All American in the bottom of the sixth, allowing the Heist to tack on one more run in the top of the seventh when Camryn Davies scurried home on a Jackie Lara single.
One last time, Thomas trotted back to the circle, this time to close out the contest. Tallying her eighth strikeout of the game, Thomas sealed the win, 6-1.
While Thomas caught All American with eight total strikeouts, New Jersey struck out just once in 35 at-bats. A common theme among Rodriguez’s group.
“We stress with our kids all the time, know your role,” Rodriguez said. “If you’re a home run hitter, take your cut, if your someone who’s just a singles hitter, pass the baton to somebody else.”
The Heist enjoy a much-deserved elongated brake before facing Firecrackers-Kimura on Saturday afternoon. A win would ensure New Jersey a spot in the single-elimination championship bracket.
“We have great team chemistry,” said Kantanas. “As long as we stay true to ourselves, don’t knock someone when they’re down and keep our heads up, I think we’ll go pretty far.”