WESTMINSTER, Colo. – Oftentimes, it can take a team a while to get acclimated and for everyone to learn about each other’s’ tendencies. That doesn’t seem to impact 16u Team Polynesia, which had barely spent any time together before coming together for the 2022 International Challenge.
Team Polynesia went 2-0 in pool play on Friday, scoring 27 runs, including an impressive 12-8 victory over Team Italy on Friday afternoon at Christopher Fields.
“I think it is an amazing opportunity and we are just super blessed to be here,” Team Polynesia Head Coach Glenelle Nitta said. “To have everyone from different schools and different states to come together and represent one country, it’s really fun and special.”
Team Polynesia raced ahead with a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning before Team Italy even knew what was happening. Mariah Atnoque got things started for the Polynesian team, lacing a leadoff double off the outfield wall. Jerrell Mailo scored her immediately on a hard-hit ground ball to give them a 1-0 lead.
Team Polynesia batted around the batting order in the top of the 1st inning, with Day-Lee Williams and Kaimi Tulua also recording RBI singles. In the bottom half of the inning, Mina Tala looked dominant on the mound, producing a quick and efficient one-two-three inning with three pop outs that never left the infield.
Team Italy settled down in the second inning though and began clawing back, eventually forcing a 4-3 game going into the fifth inning. With the time limit dwindling down, and Team Italy seizing all the momentum, Team Polynesia knew it needed to come up with a big inning. And it did.
Charlee-Rose Stevens got things started for Team Polynesia with an RBI single to give the team a little breathing room at 5-3. Polynesia loaded the bases as second baseman Taryn Ho, from LK Black Hawaii, stepped up to the plate with one out in the inning. Facing two strikes, Ho battled the Italy pitcher and broke the game wide open with a double down left-center to score two runs.
“I wasn’t in the game from the start, so I just wanted to make the most of my at bat,” Ho said.
Polynesia grabbed the momentum, and after a pair of back-to-back homeruns from Milan Ah Yat and Williams, had a 12-3 lead heading into the bottom half of the last inning.
“Our main objective is just to score one or two runs every inning,” Nitta said. “We are just trying to help our defense and help our pitcher as best as we can. Hitting is very contagious. Once one person gets a hit and gets on, the next person does, and so on, so forth. It’s paid off.”
Italy gave a valiant effort in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring two on a double to right-center field and then bringing in three runs on a 3-run homerun, but the 9-run deficit was too much to overcome, allowing Polynesia to move to 2-0 in the tournament.
“The competition here is a lot more competitive than Hawaii, so it’s been great,” Ho said of the international Challenge. “A lot of the girls on my team, I didn’t know. So, I just love making new friends while playing the game I love.”
Pool play wraps up on Saturday, with bracket play and the championship slated for Sunday. With 27 runs in two games and a sense of familiarity amongst the team, Team Polynesia looks like a contender at the 16u level.