by Kyle Koso
LOVELAND, Colo. — Working through problems the right way when it all feels wrong is the hallmark of a successful softball program.
In 14u Gold action at the Sparkler Juniors event Saturday, the Tennessee Thunderbolts 2027 squad enjoyed an early boost from grabbing the lead. A patch of lousy weather fell at a bad time, affecting their pitcher, and a consequential error in left field allowed the FC Medina-Martinez 2027 team to tie the game at the Barnes Complex.
But the Bolts went to work in the fifth inning, methodically deploying the offense to plate two big runs, allowing the team to advance to Sunday’s championship bracket with a 7-5 victory.
“We preach to them all the time, it doesn’t matter if you made the mistake or what the situations now, we want you to learn and flush it — have a short memory and focus on what’s coming next,” said head coach David West. “If we focus on the negative, that ball will find you on defense … if you’re the pitcher who gave up a home run, or walk, or hit a batter, your next pitch is the one that can gets out of the inning.”
The Bolts started the fifth with a single from Madison Pinkelton, her third hit of the day. Reagan Schmitz dropped a surgical sacrifice bunt as Pinkelton moved to second base, and Hattie Graham launched a double to deep right-center that fell between the two outfielders to give the Bolts a 6-5 lead. After Graham stole third base and a walk, Irelynn Beecham made enough contact to bring in Graham — that’s when the game-time limit was reached, and the Bolts could celebrate their efforts.
“I feel like I just got out of a hitting slump, actually. I used to just swing for the fences, but now I’m trying to make good contact, move baserunners around and I’m getting hits that way,” Pinkelton said. “We’ve said we will play for each other, not let each other down.”
The Bolts scored four runs in the first — Mycah Mays and Beecham each drove in a run with singles, and Kinsley Belcher brought in two more with a two-out double. The Firecrackers countered with three runs in the top of the second, a messy inning with all the runs coming across on passed balls and wild pitches as the rain pelted down.
Bolts reliever Taylor Moreland settled down the situation and got through three innings; the Firecrackers tied it up 5-5 in the fifth when an error in left field allowed Sadie Burroughs to come all the way home after hitting a single.
But the Bolts had a plan, all capped by Graham’s double to the fence.
“That at-bat, I just timed her up. I asked my teammates if she had a lot of spin and they said no,” Graham said. “I just went with the pitch, honestly. We just stayed together, On the field, off the field, we are family. That’s what matters the most, having your teammate’s back.”
The Bolts start Sunday play with a 10 a.m. 14u Gold quarterfinal game.