by Kyle Koso
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- No matter the nature of the path, the Rattlers Black 13u baseball team knew their journey at the Triple Crown World Series deserved to end with a shot at the title game in the highest bracket.
There's still work to do, but the Rattlers (CA) showed their intentions with a 24-12 victory over the KC Force (MO) at Strawberry Field on Thursday, closing pool play with a 3-0 record and earning the No. 3 seed of the 10 teams that reside in the Platinum bracket. The Rattlers scored 49 runs in pool play to lead all teams, and the bats were cooking immediately against the Force as 15 runs came across in the top of the first inning.
A total of 19 batters came to the plate in that frame; Justin Heffler hit a long two-run homer in an inning that also featured three doubles and seven walks.
Sure, the Rattlers had hoped to not give up as many runs as they did, and no doubt the coaches will address certain breakdowns. But the big win allowed the team to save its pitching staff and begin to scheme how to tackle the challenges of the Platinum bracket.
"The takeaway is to stay in the game. When you get a lead, you can't get too happy or think you're too good," said Heffler, who also tripled in the fourth and closed the day with three runs from the leadoff spot. "I think our mentality is to bang the baseball and not stop. I swung at a pitch before the homer and missed it, and I tried to make an adjustment, sit on the pitch more and drive it.
"From leadoff, I want to see the pitch and capitalize on any mistakes."
Xavier Farnum pitched two innings for the Rattlers, including the only one where the Force was held scoreless. It was the first appearance of the year on the mound for Farnum, which he backed up with three hits and four RBI while swinging the bat.
"The game was a little weird. A lot of runs were scored, and the other team could have been shut down earlier," Farnum said. "But we did pretty good. I felt pretty good about my pitching, and I've been swinging pretty well this summer, I just try to make contact and put the ball in play."
Kade Gaeir had two hits and three RBI for the Rattlers; Brandon Hermosillo, Rowan Haynes and Colin Riley each drove in two runs. The Force had strong efforts from Jackson Helberg (three hits, two doubles, two runs, two RBI) and Ari Shafton (two hits, a triple, two runs one RBI).
"You score that many runs in the first inning, you change the mentality of how you're playing the game. We weren't anywhere close to survival mode (in terms of using pitchers), so we took some chances with pitchers who aren't normally the go-to guys," said Rattlers coach Dave Zimkin. "Triple Crown monitors the health of the arms, and we appreciate that, and it becomes a chess game.
"We've been working real hard. We do a lot of off-field training, take the field away from them for a while. When we give it back, they appreciate the game more. And when we do something like this (World Series), like when we went to Cooperstown (at 12u), it makes for very special memories for the boys."
The Force ended up seeded No. 17 and will play in the Gold bracket, also starting Friday.
13u ELITE DIVISION -- The Dallas Texans-Nalley wrapped up pool play with the No. 1 seed in the 13u Elite, with the Utah Marshalls coming next at No. 2 in the 10-team bracket.