by Jason Hanes
Last year, Team North Carolina (Eaton) fell just short of the 14u championship game at the Triple Crown/USA Nationals. This year, with another year of strength and experience under their belts, the team that came in third last year made sure that they would not fall short.
Olivia Cainey went the distance in the circle, and a four-run second and a three-run third were more than enough offense for Team North Carolina to pick up a 7-1 victory in the 14u championship over Texas Bombers Gold Hybrid in Cumming, Ga., on Thursday afternoon.
The win capped an undefeated run through both pool play and bracket play for Team North Carolina. After a 2-0 win over Miami Stingrays Gold to start Thursday, a 10-2 win over Aces Express Futures led into the championship game. For four days in Cumming, Team North Carolina went 9-0.
“Last year, we got third, and Coach Nate was like ‘I’m not coming back here for third, we’re going to get first,’” Cainey said. “We all knew what we had to get done, and that’s how we got here undefeated.”
Cainey was helped by a solid defense behind her that helped bail the starter out of trouble when runners got on base. Texas Bombers would get runners into scoring position in the first and second innings, but Cainey and her defense kept the Bombers at bay.
“I’m just so thankful that my defense is there for me,” Cainey said. “They’re always there and always ready for me. We have very few errors, even in the outfield. I would say that I have the best infield in the nation.”
After seeing the first five batters go down in order to start the game, Team North Carolina saw the offense click into another gear with two out in the second. A single by Janelle Ilacquea was followed by a walk to Ellie Goins. Sylvia Burroughs then came through with her first big hit of the game as her double into left center scored Ilacquea to make it 1-0.
Following a walk, Skyler Harrelson laid down a perfect bunt 10-feet away from the plate on the first base side, allowing Goins to score to make it 2-0. Aleyah Terrell came through with the final blow of the inning, as her single through the right side drove in a run, then after the ball was misplayed, a second run came in to score on the play, making it 4-0.
“It starts with us with our speed game,” said Team North Carolina head coach Nate Eaton. “We have a lot of good hitters on this team, and we have a lot of good athletes. We have a lot of determined kids who know they’re playing for something a lot bigger than themselves. I think that’s what makes this team pretty special.”
In the third, a Goins sacrifice fly with two runners on plated a run to make it 5-0. Burroughs came up with a runner on second and a chance to put the game out of reach. She would hit a drive to left-center field that didn’t seem to have the distance to get out; however, it kept carrying through the Georgia heat and humidity for an opposite field homer, giving her side a 7-0 cushion.
“It took me a second too,” said Burroughs. “I was rounding second base and it kind of hit me that it went over. I knew I got good barrel on it, but I didn’t know I got that much of it.”
Texas Bombers would get on the board in the bottom of the inning. Caelee Clark would triple down the line in right to start the inning. She would score one batter later on a ground out to make it 7-1 and keep hope alive for her side.
However, from there, Cainey got into a groove and started setting batters down quickly and quietly. “She came out and was spinning the ball well and hitting her spots,” Burroughs said. “With our defense, that’s all we really need.”
“Through the offseason, our big thing was ‘Be Relentless’ and ‘Do Damage,’” said Burroughs. “We knew no matter how hot it was or how tired we were, we had to come out and do damage and be relentless.”
“I think it really started for us last year, when we came to Atlanta, we played 18 games in six days,” coach Eaton said. “We went into the offseason, and these kids grew a lot and got a lot stronger. We trained a lot and practiced a lot. I think that’s what makes us different than a lot of teams at this level is that we have a lot of dedicated parents who are willing to sacrifice and drive to get their kids to us to be able to train them. But they do a lot on their own, and I think that has a lot to do with what happened today and what’s going to happen with these kids in the future.”
By Thomas Hoffman
ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Fueled by a final day loss two weeks ago at the Triple Crown Colorado 4th of July, East Cobb Bullets – Biele/Heath have been on a direct trajectory towards the 16u championship at TC/USA Nationals. Knocking off Fury Platinum and Nebraska Gold to reach the title game, East Cobb completed Thursday’s hat trick with a 2-0 victory over Glory Adkins – Locke to claim the crown.
“To win a national championship against the caliber of teams that were here in Georgia is probably the best thing that could happen to these girls,” said head coach JD Heath. “This just puts them on the top of everybody’s list, to win a championship like this. It brightens their futures so much for softball.”
While East Cobb charged by Nebraska Gold, 10-2, Glory Adkins needed extras to slide past Carolina Elite Gold, 10-8, setting up the all-Georgia final.
Even though it was the Bullets who showed its offensive prowess in the semifinals, Glory put the pressure on East Cobb early and often, placing runners in scoring position in each of the first four innings. Starting pitcher Lexie Delbrey was zeroed in from start to finish for the Bullets, though, especially in the game’s tense moments.
“I had to be dialed in for this game,” Delbrey said. “I wanted to win a national championship, so I did what I had to do.”
Sophia Voyles did her best to keep pace with Delbrey. Through her first three innings, Voyles only saw nine batters, striking out five.
“Glory is an amazing team and I knew the game was going to be decided by big hit or two,” Heath explained. “While we were waiting for them to finish up their semifinal, I decided to have a little home run derby with my girls to get them loose.
“In the middle of the game with us tied at zero, I started to think we were going to hit a long ball. I didn’t know who it’d be, but I felt it was coming.”
Heath’s premonition was vindicated in the top of the fourth inning when Katie Taylor stepped to the plate. Hitting from the bottom of the order, Taylor vaulted her team on top with a solo shot over the centerfield fence.
“I was just looking for a pitch to get contact and get something started,” Taylor said. “Since I was leadoff that inning, I just wanted to make a good swing on the best pitch possible. I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it.”
An inning later, Kenadie Cooper matched Taylor’s effort with a solo shot of her own, jumping on the first pitch of the at-bat. In a game where runs were coming at a premium, East Cobb’s 2-0 lead now loomed large.
“I just saw the first pitch come right down the middle,” said Cooper. “I was thinking, ‘this is an opportunity I don’t want to miss and I better take it.’ This was our last game of the tournament. I think I was really focused and dialed in because I wanted to do it for my team.”
Meanwhile, Delbrey continued to throw zeroes up on the scoreboard.
Tensions rose in the bottom of the sixth inning with Glory runners on second and third and just one out. Undeterred by the pressure-packed situation, Delbrey calmly ended the frame with a pop fly to third base and a strikeout.
“I don’t really think in the circle,” Delbrey said. “The runners really didn’t matter. I just told myself to keep them from hitting.”
In the seventh, Glory manage a two-out base knock but the last-ditch effort was soon short-lived. Delbrey forced the final groundout, handing the Bullets a 16u TC/USA Nationals title.
“To win this with all my teammates is awesome,” said Cooper. “We all love each other so much and we’re such a good team together. It means a lot.”
It took 12 games in the Georgia heat but at the end of the day coach Heath and Bullets can call themselves TC/USA Nationals Champions.
“I love this team so much,” Delbrey said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team to share this with.”
by Kyle Koso
CUMMING, Ga. -- When a coach makes the right call on a reliever, every player becomes a believer.
The PA Chaos Gold squad certainly had contributors up and down the roster Thursday, but the team grabbed ultimate control in the TC/USA Nationals 18u title game when pitcher Madison Penta took over against Aces Express Gold-McCorkle. Penta kept the opposition in check, and the Chaos tacked on five late runs to polish off a 9-2 victory at Fowler Park.
Penta got the final out of the fourth inning as the Chaos held a tight 4-2 lead, and she went on to strike out six batters, including the final one in the fifth inning as the Aces mounted a charge. In the meantime, the Chaos extended their edge as leadoff batter Taylor Vitola (3-for-5, three runs) and No. 2 hitter Grace Jackson (on base five times) scored twice each in the later innings.
"We're blessed with great pitching; Penta is a stud, and she's carried us through the winner's bracket here," said Chaos coach Joe Spina. "(Starter) Haylei Archer did a tremendous job taking some innings and keeping Penta fresh so she could finish. It was our plan to get the ball back to Penta when it was time."
"When it was 4-2, I was a little stressed, but I try to never let that get to me. I pitch my game, and I know I've thrown well prior to that," said Penta, who will play at Auburn in the fall. "I knew as long as I gave it my all and the defense had my back, I would be just fine. We've practiced and we play to win. We were on a roll offensively and defensively, and as soon as I got here, I was ready to win it."
The Chaos went ahead 4-0 in the second inning; Megan Herka doubled and scored, and Morgan Mesaros (James Madison) stole home as Vitola (UNC-Wilmington) drew a throw as she stole second base. The Aces countered with a solo home run by Sydney Hoyt (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) and a two-out RBI from Kaitlyn Morado (UT-San Antonio).
Vitola and Jackson (Princeton) came through with clutch hits to open up the margin, and Ava Franz drove in a run with a double in the sixth. Two more runs came across on an error.
"I like the leadoff position because it's fun to have the challenge at the beginning of the game, to read the pitcher and see where the defense is playing," Vitola said. "I knew I wanted to take some of the stress off our pitchers (late in the game), and I saw the defense creep up, so I looked to get it over their heads. It's nice to have the pitching, and it makes our defense more relaxed, although when the other team puts it in play we have to be there."
"We talked about it all week, just keep adding runs. When you're at a national event like this playing great teams, they aren't going to go away," Spina said. "We had to keep putting pressure on them; the pressure mounts, and you end up cracking through.
"For the past five years, we've had good national level teams. We've had an aura about us and known we are as good as any team in the country. We talk about it all the time; we may not be the biggest group, but we have heart and we expect to win."
By Thomas Hoffman
ALPHARETTA, GA -- The East Cobb Bullets – Biele/Heath and Turnin2 Pezzoni – Robeson were already familiar with each other before the two squared off in 16u bracket play on Wednesday afternoon at Midway Park. Just 24 hours earlier, Turnin2’s 8-0 win sent the Bullets into the bottom end of the double-elimination bracket. East Cobb wouldn’t bow out in the second edition, however, avenging its previous loss with a 6-1 win and locking in a place in the Championship Bracket.
“I’ve never been around a team like this that wants to get that championship so badly,” said head coach JD Heath. “They’re driven by the want to win, they’re battle-tested and they know how to make the big play when the chips are down.”
Getting right to the point, leadoff hitter Madie Giglio ignited a burst of scoring in the top of the first inning for Heath and the Bullets. Mackenzie Nicholson followed up with a single of her own, allowing Hannah Church to drive both runners in with single, propelling East Cobb to a quick 2-0 advantage.
“She had a good rise ball but I was trying not to chase it,” said Nicholson. “I was just trying to stay disciplined, make hits and get on base for my team.”
For three innings, scoring came to a screeching halt for each side. Starting pitcher Shannon Becker made sure to keep herself composed in the circle. Turnin2 managed runners in scoring position only once in the first five innings.
“I was hitting my spots pretty well and working off the plate when I needed to,” explained Becker. “I needed to keep my counts in my head throughout the day. That way, I knew when to attack and when to stay back in certain situations.”
After Nicholson pushed the Bullets lead to 3-0 with an RBI single in the fifth inning, Becker’s shutout unraveled in the sixth as Turnin2 loaded the bases. Despite all the trouble, East Cobb buckled down to escape the frame, surrendering just a single run.
“I wasn’t really trying to think about anything that was happening,” Becker said. “I was just focused on the next pitch and the next batter. I just wanted to continue pitching the way I had been the whole game.”
Looking for a bit of insurance, East Cobb turned to Nicholson one last time. Known for her speed, Nicholson flexed her muscles for a double off the centerfield wall, scoring Olivia Cook and Katie Taylor. With Taylor tallying an RBI of her own, suddenly the Bullets owned a 6-1 lead.
Coming off a bases-loaded jam, Becker’s five-run cushion would prove to be more than enough. Solidifying the win with a strikeout, Becker also locked in a Championship Bracket spot for the Bullets.
“She’s spot on right now,” Heath said. “She can throw her changeup on any count. That’s what’s making her so dangerous right now. She knows she can use that weapon anytime.”
The Bullets will match up against EC Bullets – Coleman in its next contest with sights on Thursday’s championship game at 1 p.m. at Midway Park.
“Honestly, I just want to win this thing,” said Nicholson.
by Kyle Koso
ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Sometimes when players say, "We got this, Coach," you really need to take them at their word.
The 16u Carolina Elite Gold-Fusetti squad measured up in the big moments Wednesday at the TC/USA Nationals, earning a spot with 11 other teams in the championship bracket with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over the Nebraska Gold. Coach Dana Fusetti handed off the pitch calls to her catcher, Shelby Barbee, after one inning, and that decision paid off enormously as starter Karlyn Pickens allowed just one earned run along with nine strikeouts and just two walks.
It's also nice when the bottom of the batting order chips in with useful at-bats, and Carolina enjoyed production there as well with No. 9 hitter Georgia Ingle notching three hits, including the go-ahead run in the fourth and a leadoff hit that led to an important insurance run in the seventh.
Sure, there were stressful moments and occasionally missed opportunities, but Carolina never wavered in supporting each other, or in making Fusetti regret any strategies or moves.
"I've been telling them this is what we've been working for all season, and I've been riding them very hard. Today, I took a different approach, and I trusted them and knew they'd come away ahead," Fusetti said. "We've been playing non-stop, and I knew they had it in them."
Nebraska jumped ahead 1-0 when its second hitter, Addie Barnard (a Wichita State signee) punched out a home run. Pickens fought off some trouble in the second and fifth, mixing a terrific change-up with pure heat to keep Nebraska off balance.
"I tried to have a short memory at the start and not care about what happened, just look forward," said Pickens, who joined Barbee and the infielders in a long meeting in the circle when Nebraska had runners on second and third. "You just have to depend on your teammates there; we really needed that out, and we got it done."
"What makes this so special is in Colorado, we had a big game like this, and Karlyn wanted the ball," Fusetti said. "It didn't work out that time; she did her job, but we let down as a team ... this time, it's so awesome to have the same situation turn out differently."
Carolina got on the board in the fourth on a single by Jasmine Hall, and Ingle followed with a hit to make it 2-1. Her leadoff hit in the seventh was huge; courtesy runner Kyndal Woodard scored on a hit from Maya Douglas, and Pickens' infield tapper brought in the final run.
"I was just trying to relax, swing through the ball and make it hit my bat, take it wherever it could go," Ingle said. "We got through it there in the end, so it's all good."
Nebraska did have three hits in the seventh to go with a Carolina error, but Pickens went to work at the finish, ending the game with a strikeout.
"I'm used to (calling the game), and I trust my pitcher and that she will hit her spots," Barbee added. "We told her she just needed to pitch like she knows how to, and she got the job done. We got a little tense late, most teams do, but it shows how big we are to get through it and get the win."
Carolina will play at 8 a.m. Thursday, and a victory there will put the team in the 16u semifinals.
by Jason Hanes
Alaina Hampton drove in three runs to help support a complete-game shutout effort in the circle by Claire Pollock as Aces Express 14U Futures (Texas) moved into the championship bracket at the Triple Crown/USA Nationals with a 5-0 win in a loser’s bracket finale against Lady Dukes Lamar (N.C.) at Shawnee Mountain Park in Cumming, Ga.
“They had a lot of fight,” said Aces Express 14U Futures head coach Chuck Peters of his team. “We started slow this week. We dropped our first two games [in pool play], came back, and the bats came to life. Our pitching has been grinding. We came here short-handed in pitching, but the two we brought have been grinding all week.”
The game against Lady Dukes Lamar was made longer by two lightning delays; however, Pollock was undaunted for Aces Express 14U Futures.
Pollock allowed only three hits, then got help from her defense along the way to keep Lady Dukes Lamar off the scoreboard.
It was a scoreless game until the fifth inning when four runs crossed the plate for Aces Express 14U Futures. With two runners on, Hampton came through with her first of two big hits in the game as her single plated a pair of runs to break the scoreless tie. “I had to fight because I had two strikes on me,” said Hampton. “I just knew I couldn’t get out. I had to support my team and bring them in.”
Later in the frame, Honor Knott came through with an RBI single to stretch the lead to 3-0. With two out in the inning, Lady Dukes Express thought the inning would come to a close, but a throw to first on a ground ball would be dropped, allowing another run to score to make it 4-0.
An inning later, Hampton came through again. With two runners on, another single would score a run to give Hampton three big RBI on the day and make the score 5-0. “I knew I had to score the run to support my pitcher,” Hampton said.
For Pollock, one run might have been all she needed, but she gladly accepted the five. “Everything was really working today,” Pollock said. “It just kind of all clicked. I was just working one batter at a time. I just had to get outs and not let any runs score.”
“She was amazing today,” Hampton said of her starting pitcher. “She stayed strong and stayed focus through the whole thing. She helped us out. She had our backs and we had her back.”
Aces Express 14U Futures now moves into the championship bracket and an 8 a.m. contest at Central Park in Cumming tomorrow against EC Bullets-Mayfield. “It’s win or go home,” said Coach Peters. “I’m really proud of our fight. We had a tough time a couple of weeks ago in Colorado, and we lost some tough games. We’ve come back two weeks later, playing against some really good teams, and we’ve really shown good fight and the grind.”
By Thomas Hoffman
ALPHARETTA, GA -- Since the start of bracket play, the 16u Gold Coast Hurricanes – Hammonds (FL) have been virtually untouchable. After back-to-back wins on Tuesday, Gold Coast awarded itself with a spot in the Championship Bracket, sliding past Turnin2 – Pezzoni Robeson (MI), 4-3.
“The team is playing really well,” said head coach Kevin Hammonds. “We’ve relied heavily on our pitching but yesterday we found our power stroke and started to hit the ball with purpose. Once we get out there, we’ll usually put a lot of pressure on you from the base pads.”
Following a quiet top half of the first inning, the Hurricanes went right to work, offensively. Taylor Morgan led the bottom end off with a single and a stolen base to quickly put herself in scoring position. Three batters later, Amaya Ross brought both Morgan and Lauren Bevis home with a base knock. Gold Coast finished with three runs in the frame and the early lead.
“You just have to go for it,” Morgan said of her team’s offensive mentality. “You always want to play with a lead and we wanted to go out there and get it.”
Turnin2 countered with two runs of its own in the second inning. Hurricanes starting pitcher Macie Welch nearly left the second without any damage, but an illegal pitch brought everyone back and eventually let Turnin2 back into the contest.
“These girls never panic,” Hammonds said. “You always feel confident when Macie or any one of our pitchers have the ball. They have ice in their veins.”
Leading off the third inning, Taylor Morgan’s hot bat would not cool down. Flying around the bases for a triple, Morgan scored her second run on Kylie Hammonds' sacrifice fly and edged Gold Coast out to a two-run lead, 4-2.
“I was seeing a lot of low and inside pitches,” explained Morgan. “I knew it was a good lefty versus lefty type of action, so I just had to be ready for something on the inside part of the plate.”
Morgan ended her morning 2-3 with two runs scored and a stolen base.
In the circle, Welch began to settle into a grove. An error in the fifth inning led to a Turnin2 run, representing only a small dent in an otherwise spotless performance. The left-hander went six and two-thirds innings, all while keeping her team in front.
“I was just focusing on my spin and where the batters were,” Welch said. “I knew if I threw it in places that would be hard for their bats to get to, I’d either get them to miss or get a ground ball for my defense.
“You always know these girls behind you are going to make a play. Even if you miss, you can rely on them to come up with something amazing.”
Clinging to its 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh, coach Hammonds turned to Hannah Pitts to with two outs and two on.
“Macie gave us all she had,” said Hammonds. “I wanted to let her finish it out but when two runners got on, I knew it was time to go with Hannah. They hadn’t seen a rise ball all day and I knew they’d be a bit thrown off by her.”
Just as coach Hammonds predicted, Pitts dialed up her trusty rise ball, recording a strikeout to end the game, 4-3.
“I was just thinking hit my spots,” Pitts said. “Hit my spots and trust my defense. You can’t think too far ahead. Just take it pitch-by-pitch.”
Following a win over Aces Express 16u Futures, 3-2, Gold Coast continues its journey through the 16u bracket. Just two wins away from a championship berth, a Triple Crown USA Nationals title is well within reach.
by Jason Hanes
Team North Carolina Eaton punched its ticket into the 14U Championship
Bracket at the Triple Crown/USA Nationals Wednesday morning with an
8-5 win over EC Bullets ’04 Central Florida at Sawnee Mountain Park in
“We had to get what the game gives us,” said Team North Carolina Eaton
head coach Nathan Eaton. “Today, the game gave us a field that was
really soft. It was tough defensively. We saw it on our side. We saw early that they were having a hard time fielding balls. The way we play the game is based on what the game gives us, so that worked for us today.”
With the game tied 2-2 after two, Team North Carolina Eaton scored twice to take the lead in the third. Atalya Rijo singled to start the inning, then stole second. One batter later, a single by Emma Tisdale brought Rijo around third, looking to score.
On the play at the plate, Rijo slid around the plate and around the catcher, with the catcher missing the tag and Eaton missing the plate. Rijo would get a hand back onto home in time to give her side the lead. With a pinch runner on base, M.C. Eaton would connect for an RBI single to make it 4-2.
In the bottom of the inning, EC Bullets ’04 Central Florida tied the game back up. With two runners on, Emily Perry connected on a two-run single to knot the score at 4-4. That would prove to be the last time that EC Bullets ’04 Central Florida would score before the seventh inning as Tayven Stephenson was brought in to pitch in relief.
Stephenson would get out of the inning unscathed, keeping the game tied in the process.
“I just had to get it done,” Stephenson said. “My curveball was really working. I just needed to get some outs and pick it up.”
The lead went back to Team North Carolina Eaton an inning later as an RBI single by Janelle Ilacqua made it 5-4. Later in the game, small ball would play a huge role in a three-run inning for Team North Carolina Eaton. With runners on second and third after a bunt single by Ellie Goins, Syliva Burroughs laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to get an RBI to make it 6-4, with Burroughs taking second uncontested.
Later in the frame, a grounder to third by Rijo would lead to chaos on the bases and a run coming home, making it 7-4. Rijo would score during the next at-bat on an illegal pitch to give her side an 8-4 lead.
From there, Stephenson had the game under control. An error would help EC Bullets ’04 Central Florida bring the tying run to the plate in the seventh, but a fly out to right would end it with Team North Carolina Eaton taking an 8-5 win.
The win gives Team North Carolina Eaton a ticket into the championship bracket at Central Park in Cumming tomorrow with a first pitch set for 8 a.m. against Miami Stingrays Gold. “We just need to play hard like we know how to do, and we’re going to win,” Stephenson said.
“Our goal is to deliver a national championship back to North Carolina,” Coach Eaton said. “That’s really been the goal; but development of my team has been by number one priority. It’s important to keep these kids playing in these competitive tournaments so that, when they go to the next level, they know what it’s like to compete at a high level.
"My pitchers today had to pitch against two players on the Bullets who are the best players I’ve seen. When they’re able to see players like that, they’re able to develop in the circle and good things happen for them.”
by Kyle Koso
ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- At the highest level of club softball, players have to figure out their plan for each at-bat, while still being prepared to make adjustments.
You can safely say Dave McCorkle wished his Aces Express 18u Gold team had been quicker studies late Tuesday afternoon, stuck in a scoreless tie with the Carolina Cardinals in bracket play at the TC/USA Nationals. Fortunately for the Aces, pitcher Aaliyah Garcia suppressed the Cardinals from start to finish, and a late two-run home run from Courtney Day ended up sending the Aces away with a 2-0 victory.
That sets up a Wednesday game for the Aces from Texas, playing against California's Aces Ashley/Creamer, with the winner securing a spot in the 18u championship bracket.
Garcia never allowed a runner past second base, gave up no walks and struck out five batters, getting multiple outs on just one- and two-pitch at-bats.
"I like to get ahead in the count, and I know my coaches like that, too. I wasn't doing the best at the plate, so if that's happening, I have to step it up on the field," said Garcia who is headed to Georgia Southern. "I like those close-game situations ... maybe not at the plate, but on the mound I enjoy that. We are trying to focus on playing good games back-to-back, and here to play five great ones. We are on the verge of that."
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Ciarra Mata singled for the Aces, and with two strikes and two outs, Day made a perfect swing to secure what proved to be the winning margin; this came right after McCorkle pleaded loudly from the third-base coaching box for a quality at-bat.
"I don't get too much in my head. I take it one pitch at a time and look for a pitch I can really drive," said Day, who is headed to Texas. "Coach Mac was yelling, but I brushed it off and did what I needed to do. I was expecting the pitch there, because she had just gotten me on two pitches in the same spot. It happened to go there, and I took care of it.
"That was a fun game; it definitely kept you on your toes, and I enjoy being in a competitive and tight position like that."
"That's what Courtney does -- she takes those hacks. I knew somebody was going to break it open, and I'm glad it was Courtney," Garcia added.
McCorkle probably isn't done talking to his roster about their bats, but he agreed fully that Garcia was the primary asset for the contest.
"She pounded the zone; I give a lot of credit to Jasie Roberts at catcher. She controls the game, calling the pitches, and we got two shutouts today that way," he said. "AG is a state champion in Texas -- she's tough to barrel up, because she works on all the corners and changes speeds, and is a competitor.
"We've struggled more this summer than I think we should. Out of high school, the kids get used to hitting middle of the zone, and at this level you don't get that. You have to make adjustments as a team, and when pitchers are successful, they are going to go back there. You have to make them stop.
"Courtney hit a home run earlier today, but she's better than she's (showing), and I got a little frustrated. Got to find a way -- she's one of the best hitters in Texas, and she came through."
ALPHARETTA, GA -- After a lackluster start in its matchup games on Monday, Michigan Finesse 18u – Rex was determined to get out on the right foot Tuesday morning at USA Nationals. Tallying three home runs to topple Virginia Glory Mertz – Griffith, Finesse found six additional runs in its second contest of the day, moving past Bandits 18u (NC), 6-3.
“The girls were really disappointed in how the day ended yesterday,” said coach Jeremy Coberley. “They came out today determined, got us three home runs back-to-back-to-back, and it got us going when we really needed it.”
Starting pitcher Lauren Esman set down the Bandits in order in the opening half-inning, quickly letting her offense go to work. The first six Finesse batters all reached safely, including an RBI triple from Esman herself. In total, Finesse plated four runs in the first inning, highlighted by an inside-the-park home run from Skylar Coberley.
“I was focused on getting my hands out in front,” Coberley said. “I haven’t been hitting well lately. I started to hit the ball hard in the first game today and then I finally put a good swing on one.
“I was going to stop at third but coach Dan was giving me the go sign and I thought, ‘oh no!’ Luckily, I made it.”
The two squads went back and forth in the second and third innings. Bandits pushed a run across in the second and followed up with two more in the third. Finesse nearly kept with the Bandits’ pace, scoring a run apiece in each inning with Hannah Cady and Kayla Skapyak recording RBI. When the dust settled, Finesse clung to a 6-3 advantage.
“Our enthusiasm for the game was awesome today,” said Esman. “Yesterday, we weren’t having any fun but today we were smiling and giddy, even in the tense moments. I feel like we had a more positive attitude the whole way through.”
As the lineup turned over for the second time in the fifth inning, Finesse’s ace pitcher seemed to get stronger with each at bat. Only once did Esman allow a runner in scoring position, eventually dialing up a strikeout to end the threat.
“She’s a pretty resilient kid,” said coach Coberley. “They hit the ball hard on her a couple of times but she just kept fighting. She changed up her pitches around a little bit and did a really good job of keeping them guessing.”
The mere thought of comeback seemed improbable as Esman went back to work in the top of the seventh inning. Never wavering, the left-hander went 1-2-3 for the fourth time in the game to seal Finesse’s victory, 6-3.
“I just get in a rhythm,” explained Esman. “As soon as I get it rolling, I do everything I can to keep it going.”
Finesse will try to keep its momentum rolling all the way to the 18u Championship Bracket. A win against hometown Atlanta Premier Gold on Wednesday would do just that.
“I think our comradery is really going to help us out this week,” coach Coberley said. “A lot of our parents didn’t make the trip down and I think the time the girls are spending together off the field is really beneficial.”