By Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER – Don’t be surprised if random objects start shifting in the direction of Lyndsey Llantero.
The just-graduated senior from Pacific Grove High School in Monterey, CA., was the center of gravity for the 18u Salinas Storm-Troy squad on Sunday, going 4-for-4 in the championship game against Tennessee Mojo Sewell and driving in six runs as the Storm rumbled to a 12-7 victory at Tepper Field. That earned them the Mount Elbert bracket title in the 18 Sparkler Open division, a deserving reward on a day that required four games and no shortage of endurance.
Llantero began with a two-run double in the first. In the sixth, she singled and scored on a heads-up base running play when a throw went to second base, and she capped the day with a triple-power insurance policy, a three-run homer as the Storm built a substantial lead.
“The pitches were easy for me to see, easy to make contact with, and I was just happy with the progress I made this week,” Llantero said. “The important thing is to focus on the game and not really the score. You have to lift each other up, because it’s not about who is doing good and who is doing bad. I’ve never been to one of these tournaments before, but I was excited with the results … you couldn’t have expected anything better.”
To Mojo’s credit, they held the lead for much of the contest and scored twice in the bottom of the seventh – all this with just nine players in uniform and a couple clearly hobbling through aches and pains that are part of a full week at the Colorado 4th of July tournament.
Keeping that brave effort from knocking the Storm from their own goals was the relief pitching performance of Savannah Bravo, who came in for the Storm in the fourth inning and held tough, even after Mojo’s Caroline Hemphill homered to push her team ahead, 5-4. Bravo then pitched two scoreless innings as the Storm took the lead, and in the seventh, she closed by spearing a line drive to the circle that led to a game-ending double play.
“To me it was like every other situation in those tough games; I just had to push harder for my teammates and do the work,” Bravo said. “It felt amazing. I love pitching, it’s my passion, and this was fun. As a team, we work so well together, and we can do anything. We all pushed through for each other.”
Mia Lemmon drove in two runs with a double in the seventh for the Storm; Sophia Verdegal hit a solo home run in the fourth, and Marley Panziera added two hits, two runs and an RBI. Storm head coach Troy Seva’aetasi smiled as his group celebrated Sunday’s accomplishments, which included two one-run victories earlier in bracket play.
“We had a very effective rotation. The plan was to rotate our pitchers and catchers as much as possible; my best pitcher is also very good at shortstop, but she sacrificed that position for the team,” Seva’aetasi said. “Staying fresh was the key; 12 games is no joke in this tournament. Savannah is our horse; she came in as a No. 2 or No. 3 and built her way to a consistent pitcher. She had a lot of innings; we all got Wednesday off and she pitched in a showcase. They tend to throw her a lot in those, and that’s because she throws strikes, gets groundballs and popups.
“Lyndsey, we’ve been waiting for that. She can hit 12 or 15 out in practice; for us, if she’s not hitting it out of the park, we think she’s slumping. But that 4-for-4 was a really good day.”
For Mojo, Brooklyn Stewart had a home run and three RBI; Delany Buchanon had two hits and walk while gutting out a lower leg injury, and Lisa Heller had three hits.
In the Pike’s Peak bracket of the 18 Sparkler Open final, the Arizona Storm Westover took the title with a 15-2 victory over Firecrackers AZ.