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.”