by Bradey King
The 13u Yard Dawgs stormed the field with confidence on a gloomy Sunday afternoon in Windsor, CO., at the Colorado State Championships. The team tallied just one loss in the tournament, which came from Friday’s pool play game against the Chargers.
The Dawgs redeemed themselves by run-ruling the Chargers in bracket play and eventually fought their way to the title game where they succeeded in taking down the undefeated 5280 Tigers, 7-1.
“Friday, the boys came out a little flat and frankly didn’t play that great. So we came back out yesterday and today with a better approach and mentality,” said head coach Jason Bates.
While the Tigers seemed to have the initial advantage by being home team and having a perfect record, they had yet to play the Dawgs in the 2018 season. This presented a clean slate for the matchup and it was truly anybody’s game.
An unusual start put the Dawgs on the board 1-0 in the first as the Tigers starting pitcher struggled to find the zone and hit four consecutive batters with wild pitches.
“I thought it gave us a lot of momentum when all of us got on base right away,” said leadoff batter Dominick Cortez.
More Tigers pitching struggles resulted in two free bases to start the second inning. Cortez stepped up to drive in a run and teammate Conner Boyd did the same as he found the 5-6 hole and extended the Dawgs lead, 3-0.
The score remained that way until the fifth when Boyd crushed a leadoff double and quickly scored on a Tigers throwing error.
The Dawgs offense scraped in a few more insurance runs in the sixth initially led by Finley Bates’ single. Bates was brought around to score on a hit from Braden Doumer and another single from Nathan Pitts put two ducks on the pond for Cortez. He was clutch once again and cleared the bases by smashing a triple to the right field fence.
Cortez tallied three RBI in the game, scoring nearly half of the Dawgs total runs.
“I knew that I had to do it for my team because I struggled yesterday. So I just had to come back today and show up for them,” said Cortez.
The Dawgs had a comfortable 7-0 lead heading into the final two frames. The Tigers scored a run in a sixth inning rally but it wasn’t enough to catch the Dawgs.
“The game plan going in was to get our starter Hunter Gotschall to four or five innings and see what happens from there. If he’s throwing strikes and on his game that always gives us a chance,” said coach Bates.
Gotschall did his job on the mound, throwing an absolute gem for the Dawgs. He recorded eight strikeouts, allowing just two hits and held the Tigers scoreless through five full innings before closer Conner Boyd entered in the sixth.
“First time through the order, I just worked ahead with my fastball and then second time through I worked in the off-speed and then worked them backwards,” said Gotschall. “The win feels real nice!”
Colorado Elite entered the 12u D1 title game of the Colorado State Championships with plenty of confidence and plenty of reasons why. Scoring 46 runs in pool play and claiming the No. 2 overall seed, Elite proceeded to cruise through the semifinal with another impressive double-digit victory over the CC Bruins, 12-2.
Sunday afternoon at the Ballpark in Erie, Elite faced the No. 1 seeded Colorado Burn. Though the Burn edged Elite’s effort in pool play, Elite walked away as champions, claiming the 12u D1 crown, 14-0.
“We’ve worked really hard this season,” said head coach Marc Smith. “We set a goal for these boys to go undefeated in 12u play in the state of Colorado. This championship is the culmination of their hard work paying off.”
Leadoff hitter Brooks Barber got right down to business in the opening frame. Barber singled to start off the inning, moved to second on a passed ball and would come around to score on an RBI single from Gavin Smith. Smith would later equal Barber’s scoring effort when Adam Smith brought both him and Matthew Casillas home to top off a three-run first inning.
“This whole tournament has been a real team effort,” said Barber. “We’ve played great defense. Everyone in the lineup has contributed. Even when the top of the order isn’t hitting well, the guys in the bottom half seem to pick us up.”
After his work at the dish, Casillas turned his focus to the mound. Though Burn would record a hit and a walk, those would be the only two batters that reached safely in Casillas’ body of work. The young right-hander completed three full innings, gave up just one hit, and struck out four.
“My fastball was really on today,” said Casillas. “Early on, I knew I was getting it past them pretty easily. From there, it was just about hitting my spots.”
In the top of the second inning, Elite put the pedal to the metal offensively. Ten of the 11 batters in the order came to the plate and by the time the dust settled five runs had scored. Elite saw RBI come from Will Garduno, Dominic Gamueda, Luke Garner, Gavin Smith and Brooks Barber.
“Early in the game I was seeing a tone of fastballs,” Barber said. “As the game wore on, I began to see more and more off-speed pitches. It was just a matter of adjusting to what they were throwing at me.”
With Casillas rolling on the hill, Elite went back to work in the third inning already leading 8-0. It was the same song, different inning as the boys from Parker plated another five runs, running away from Burn, 13-0.
Elite added yet another run in the fourth inning before coach Smith turned to Luke Garner to seal up the championship.
Though Garner didn’t have the sheer number of innings to work with as Casillas, his efforts weren’t dissimilar, recording two strikeouts, including the final swing and a miss to claim the 12u title, 14-0.
“It feels amazing to be Colorado State Champions,” said Casillas. “We had each other’s backs all week long. We were loud in the dugout every time somebody made a good play or got hit. I don’t think we could have done this without each other.”
Finishing at the top of the pack in the Triple Crown Colorado State Championships has been no strange feeling for Elite in the recent past. Their 2018 title is now the second of back-to-back championships.
“We love playing in this tournament,” said coach Smith. “Not only have we had some recent success these last couple of years but it provides us with so many things.
“It provides us with great experience going forward and we know by playing well that we’ll get to play in other elite tournaments like the Omaha SlumpBuster and the Triple Crown World Series.”
Thornton Storm Red were cruising through pool play in the 13u D2 division of the 2018 Triple Crown Colorado State Championships with double-digit wins over Thunder Bats and Gameday Elite. When the Storm dropped its first game to Slammers-5280, Storm Red needed a win over Diamond Club Navy to ensure themselves a spot in Sunday’s bracket play.
Trailing almost the entire contest, the Storm conjured up some late-game heroics to win in walk-off fashion, 7-6, locking in the No. 1 seed in the Gold Championship bracket.
“These kids have battled hard all year long,” said head coach Jeremy Hirschfeld. “They’ve been down more than once this season and battled back. This is a tough group of kids and I’m so proud to be their coach.”
Diamond Club struck the first blow, dialing up two runs on four hits in the top half of the first inning. Before things got out of hand, catcher Roman Padron worked hard to calm down starting pitcher Matthew Hirschfeld.
“I try to keep it loose out there,” said Padron. “Even though we were down, I like to tell some jokes, make them laugh and then focus up on what we have to do.”
As Padron instilled more and more confidence in pitcher Hirschfeld, the right-hander picked up steam, knocking down Diamond Club in order in the top of the second.
The Storm began to chip away at the lead in the bottom half of the frame. Bryan Gutierrez began the effort with a single and would later score to bring Thornton within one, 2-1.
“Their pitchers were really focused on the outer part of the plate,” said Gutierrez. “Once I stayed back and let them come to me, that’s when my hits started to come.”
Diamond Club countered with two more runs in the third inning, stretching the lead to three, 4-1. The resilient Storm had yet another answer, however, bringing in a run on a Padron RBI single.
Padron would strike again in the fifth inning. Still trailing 4-2, Padron found a gap through the middle for the second of his two RBI. He would finish the day 2-3 with an intentional walk.
“I’m not going to lie, they threw it pretty hard,” Padron said. “I tried to be confident and tell myself that I could hit them.”
After Diamond Club added another insurance run in the top of the sixth inning, Thornton was running out of time to mount a comeback. Gutierrez, along with Daniel Gomez and Dominic Chavez sparked a three-run inning, leapfrogging Diamond Club for the lead, 6-5.
“We were always positive in the dugout,” said Padron. “We knew the longer we stayed in the game, the better chance we had at a comeback.”
Tensions rose in the final frame when Diamond Club plated a game-tying sixth run. With the bottom of the order due up for Thornton, the Storm needed a special moment one last time.
Nathanial McGill led off with a single, stole second and scampered to third on a Joshua McKee bunt single. With Padron earning a free pass to first, the bases were loaded with no one out and Ethan McCormick at the dish. As everyone at the Louisville Sports Complex rose to their feet, McCormick singled to left, ending the game, 7-6, and secured the Storm a spot in Sunday’s bracket play.
“I never had a doubt,” said coach Hirschfeld. “These boys have the greatest optimism. Even when us coaches or parents seem to get in the way, they seem to come through.”
Thornton awaits the winner of the TC Wolves and Windsor Wizards. Three more wins are all that separate the Storm and a 13u D2 Gold title.
“We want to show everyone that we can play at this level,” said Gutierrez. “We’ve been working hard all summer long and this would be the perfect way to end our season.”
Nothing has come easy for the Colorado Steel in the 13u D2 division of the 2018 Triple Crown Colorado State Championships. The Steel’s route through pool play featured a 3-0 Gameday Grinders team, the 1-1-1 Parker Colts, a then-undefeated Slammers Wolverines squad and a fourth tough matchup against a Colorado Altitude team coming off a six-run victory.
Though the Steel held the lead in six of the seven innings against Altitude, they would settle for a second tie in pool play, 6-6.
“We played in a ton of close games,” said head coach Kevin Ortiz. “I think we were good enough to win every game we played in. It was just the little things that got away from us.”
Jonathan Gonzalez kicked the game versus the Altitude off with a single in the top of the first inning, sparking a three-run frame. Braxton Vail delivered one of the RBI on what was part of back-to-back-to-back hits for the Steel.
“I tried to focus on what their pitchers were doing,” said Vail. “I was patient enough to find my pitch to hit and put it in play.”
Lead in hand, the Steel turned to Isiah Martinez to keep it the game in their favor. Martinez, not the biggest athlete in terms of stature, relied heavily, and quite successfully, on his defense.
“All of our pitchers put in some great work today,” Ortiz said. “Ethan didn’t try to do anything special and was a real team player for us.”
Martinez masterfully crafted four innings, giving up just three runs and striking out two. The stellar Steel defense behind him combined for 10 putouts and turned a momentum-killing double play in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Before Altitude squeaked a third run past Martinez in the bottom of the fourth, Vail came through with his second RBI in the top half of the inning to give his team a little insurance. Leading 3-2 and leading off the inning, Vail launched a towering home run to the opposite field in left, stretching Steel’s margin, 4-2.
“I saw a fastball down the middle,” Vail said. “I couldn’t pass up that pitch.”
The fifth and sixth frames were patrolled by middle reliever David Ortiz. After a quick fifth inning, Altitude struck with a two-run home run in the sixth, taking the lead, 5-4.
In the final frame, the Steel’s bottom half of the order shined, garnering two hits, a trio of stolen bases and a lead-changing RBI from Isiah Martinez. With the lead recaptured, the Steel stood just three outs from its first victory of the tournament.
Altitude was not about to a win slip away just yet, though. A pair of errors led to a run before Zach Mehess could record the final strikeout, ending the game, 6-6.
Steel’s second tie leaves them with a 0-2-2 record in its four pool play games.
“I’m proud of these boys,” said Ortiz. “They competed all summer long. The Colorado State Championships bring some of the best competition in the state and it can’t be overstated how valuable that experience is.”
Without a win, Steel’s chances of making the championship bracket remain slim but the team is looking at the positives.
“I just love coming out here and playing with my teammates,” said Vail. “Baseball is an amazing sport. Summer after summer, I get to come out here and play, win and get better with my friends.”
Offense has not been a problem for the Fort Collins Force. Tallying 31 across its first two games, the Force took care of Slammers Prospects, 17-10, and finished off Dirtbags Baseball, 14-4, to sit atop Pool A in the 10u D2 division of the 2018 Triple Crown Colorado State Championships.
“I think you saw us play our game of baseball today,” said head coach Darin Cox. “Sometimes, it’s easy for these boys to get confused with what we’re telling them and what they’re parents are telling them. Today, they were focused and took it one batter at a time.”
Fresh off an impressive victory against a Slammers team that was coming off a double-digit win themselves, Fort Collins was looking for a hot start to kick off Game 2.
“Hot starts are really important for us,” said Jake Batinger. “Every time we get off to a good start, we feel extremely confident that we’ll end up winning in the end.”
After shutting out the Dirtbags with a 1-2-3 top of the first inning. Batinger led the bottom half of the frame off with a single, stole both second and third and came around to score on a passed ball. Max Fowler would also score in the inning, giving Fort Collins an early 2-0 advantage.
“We’re all pretty aggressive on the bases,” said Batinger. “It’s part of who we are as a team. We all have that mentality.”
The Dirtbags struck back in the top of the second inning. Scoring two runs on two hits, the Greeley-based squad leveled up the game with four innings to play.
Working quickly in the bottom of the frame, the Dirtbags took the lead for the first time of the day in the top of the third, pushing one run across.
“I think the boys were a little tight in the first couple of innings,” Cox explained. “They all wanted to hit that double, triple or home run. Once we got them to settle down and focus on just getting a base hit, things really started to pick up.”
Cox’s squad came into the bottom of the third with the exact mentality the coaching staff desired. Fort Collins sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning, scoring nine runs in breakout fashion. Noah McFarland along with Ian Sanderson and Wrigley Cox each came up with an RBI to stretch the Force’s lead, 11-3.
On defense, the Force made use of three different pitchers who all relied heavily on the players behind them to keep the lead intact.
“Our defense is really strong,” said Ian Sanderson, who stepped firmly into the middle reliever role for the Force. “We do a ton of drills every day in practice. Live-ball batting practice with a full infield, double play drills, you name it. We do it a million times in practice and that’s why it gives us confidence in games.”
After the Dirtbags tallied a fourth run in the top of the fourth, Fort Collins needed an extra three runs to close a second consecutive win. Batinger came through once more with a single and a run scored off Fowler’s RBI hit but it was Sanderson who delivered the decisive blow with an RBI single to seal the game, 14-4.
“It’s all about positivity,” Sanderson said. “If we’re positive in warmups, in the dugout and on the field I feel like this team can’t lose.”
The Force face two more pool play games on Saturday before the championship bracket begins on Sunday. With its two wins and high run differential, Fort Collins has a strong hold on the No. 1 seed in Pool A.
“I think Ian said it best,” Cox said. “We’re a confident bunch but we need to stay positive. Our motto has always been ‘so what, now what.’ We won two games, now what?”