By Michael Roley
The Peoria Sluggers Gold 16U team tore the cover off the ball Wednesday morning.
Well, maybe not literally. The softballs appeared to still be in-tact following the Sluggers’ 12-2 win over the Colorado Angels 16U at Waddell Park in Denver.
But figuratively? They certainly did as the team from Peoria, Illinois littered the outfield with hits, including two early home runs while on their way to their second win of the day. And many of these knocks were not soft bloopers just out of the reach of defenders, the Sluggers were living up to their team name, ripping balls into gaps for extra bases and sending sharp singles through the infield.
In their two games Wednesday morning, the Sluggers combined for 27 total runs after a 15-4 win earlier in the morning.
“I definitely think our hitting is our strength,” pitcher Haley Wallace said. “We just make adjustments really fast and if we make an error at one point we just get back up and pick each other up.”
The Sluggers left little doubt as to who was in control from the start. They jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning before many folks in attendance had a chance to apply their sunscreen. Lead-off hitter Jenna Nink ripped a double and came around to score on an error before Aubrie Shore blasted a two-run home run.
It was more of the same in the second. Saylor Marchand had an RBI single and then Nink launched a two-run shot over the right-center field fence to push the score to 6-0.
“It’s always nice (to get off to a good start),” Jayden Standish said. “Jenna Nink has been our lead-off for most of the season and she starts us off every time with a home run or by getting on base. That kind of stuff just gets us going.”
Angels’ starting pitcher Madison Leach found a rhythm in the circle after the second inning, holding the Sluggers’ offense scoreless for four consecutive innings and keeping the Angels within striking distance. The Angels plated two runs in the third and fourth inning, one on a double by Haylee Curry and the other an RBI single from Kristin Ingram to pull the score within four at 6-2.
However, that was as close as they would get before the Sluggers’ offense once again came alive in the top of the seventh. Marchand drove home her second run of the game and then following a walk to load the bases, Quinn Pallardy drilled a bases clearing triple to score three runs and blow open the contest.
The hit parade was then engaged at this point. Wallace then drove in Pallardy with a double in the following at-bat to make it 11-2. Then, Standish, who head coach Renee Gass said has been in “killer mode” recently, ripped another double to give the Sluggers a double-digit advantage.
Kaelyn Leverson started the game in the circle for the Sluggers and tossed three innings before Wallace entered in relief. The incoming sophomore hadn’t pitched a lot during the spring, her coach said. But she was able to get back into the swing of things rather quickly, throwing four innings and allowing just one run. The Sluggers defense made several nice plays behind her, something any pitcher undoubtedly appreciates.
“It’s definitely nice,” Wallace said. “I know if I miss a spot I know they can pick me back up.”
Peoria, Illinois lies in central Illinois, roughly splitting the distance between St. Louis and Chicago. It also sits at an elevation of 500 feet above sea level. Coach Gass said the team came out early to assist in the adjustment to the 5,280 feet Denver sits above sea level.
“Personally, I haven’t had a problem with it other than during warmups when we go for a jog it’s a little tiring,” Standish said. “But during the game, I don’t think a lot of us have had too much of a problem with it.”
And perhaps with the way they have been hitting the ball so far, the thin air has been more advantage than disadvantage.