by Thomas Hoffman
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Crown City American didn’t travel all the way from Southern California just to enjoy the magnificent views of the Colorado Mountains. Head coach Rolo Avila and company came to the 13u Triple Crown World Series to finish off its 2019 campaign in style and with an 11-6 win over Rattlers Black, the Pasadena-based crew is just one win away from doing just that.
“We’re here to win,” said Avila. “We’ve been working pretty much all year for this tournament. We’ve made improvements all the way through.
“Our pitching, defense and offense have gotten better each week. So we’re just ready to play. Whoever they want to throw on the mound, we’ll be ready for them.”
Both Crown City and Rattlers brought the intensity early and often. The two teams traded runs in the first inning. In the second, Jonah De Leon lifted his team to a 3-1 lead with a monstrous two-run home run over the centerfield fence.
The second inning was also the Rattlers’ first look at Bryan Richman, who kicked off his afternoon with a single and two stolen bases.
“They didn’t mix anything up with their curveballs or off-speed pitches,” Richman said. “I was seeing a lot of fastballs and looking for a lot of dead-red fastballs.”
Battling back in the top of the third inning, Rattlers retaliated for three runs to retake the lead, 4-3. Justin Heffler and Gabriel Sanz-Miller each recorded an RBI in the frame.
Undeterred, Crown City looked to even the score in the bottom half.
By the time Richman stepped back into the batter’s box, Crown City had done more than just draw level. Richman followed the RBI efforts of Sean Asperger and De Leon with one of his own. When the dust settled, five runs had crossed the plate.
“We have a solid 10 players on our team,” said Richman, who was a perfect 3-3 on the afternoon with an RBI and a run scored. “I feel like on any other team, I would be higher in the lineup, but this team is pretty good.”
The Rattlers pushed a run across in the top of the fourth inning to draw within four, 8-4. Staring at a shot in the 13u championship game, Avila turned from starting pitcher Andrew Campana to Asperger.
“Throughout the year, we’ve started throwing (Sean) little by little and he was starting to throw a lot of strikes,” explained Avila. “So we just had him mix in an off-speed pitch and he’s been pretty consistent with both.”
Despite surrendering a base hit, Asperger quickly quieted the Rattlers in the sixth, allowing his offense to look for insurance before the final inning.
Avila and Crown City dialed up exactly what it was looking for in the bottom end of the inning, pushing across three more runs in an effort highlighted by Daniel Ruiz’s RBI double.
“We had a good lead from everyone’s great hitting,” Asperger said. “In that final inning, I just wanted to pound the zone and see what happened.”
The only thorn in the side of Crown City all afternoon was Heffler, who rocketed a home run in the seventh to complete his 4-for-4 day with a home run, two doubles, three RBI and a stolen base.
With the miscue behind him, Asperger regrouped to finish his mission, forcing the final three outs and sending his team to Sunday’s championship contest.
Slated for 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Crown City could face Rattlers Black or a new challenger out of the 13u loser’s bracket. No matter which team it matches up against, the boys from Pasadena will be ready.
“We just have to keep the energy flowing,” Richman said. “We’ve been with this team for a year and it’s been a fun ride. It’d be amazing to finish it off.”