Capitalizing on mistakes from its opponent, the El Monte Dukes took a good first step in the 2017 Triple Crown 11u World Series in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
The Wednesday afternoon matchup against Building Champions had a little bit of everything for the Dukes. A couple innings of good pitching, two big innings of offense, and even a lightning storm cruised through the complex. All combined, El Monte came away victorious, 8-4.
“We did okay today,” said head coach Jorge Almeda. “Our pitching was on, our defense made the right plays. We didn’t hit as well as I’d like, but we were able to make them pay for their mistakes and I’m happy with the win.”
It didn’t take long for the scrappy group of kids from California to jump out on top. After a 1-2-3 inning from starting pitcher Josh Almeda, the Dukes went right to work at the dish.
Chris Rodriguez led the opening frame off with a sharp single to center field. Two walks, two stolen bases and two passed ball later, all of the sudden El Monte had plated three runs, taking the early lead.
“I was thinking base hit the whole time,” said Chris Rodriguez. “Our coaching staff likes us to be very aggressive. We really wanted to get that early lead.”
Now with a sizable advantage, it was up to Josh Almeda to protect it. Through two full innings, Almeda was nearly perfect, allowing just one base runner and striking out three Building Champions’ batters.
“I just tried to keep my confidence out there,” Almeda said. “When I got my first couple of outs, I really started to settle down and just told myself that I could do this.”
It was then the lightning arrived, delaying the game for a half an hour. The delay, among many things, gave ample time for coaches and teams to re-assess strategy and re-energize.
For the Dukes, Josh Almeda came out with a strong top half of the third inning, setting up for a monstrous bottom half of the frame. Four walks, five stolen bases, two hits and a RBI from both Anthony Guitierrez and Derek Almeda totaled five runs for El Monte, taking a commanding grip of the contest, 8-0.
Building Champions wasn’t about to go away lightly, though. Responding quickly and vigorously, Building Champions muscled together a pair of hits with runners in scoring position to get three runs back, closing the gap on the Dukes.
“At that point we just had to remember what we had learned in practice,” said Rodriguez. “We had been in these types of situations before. We just had to stay in the game and not get ahead of ourselves.”
With time running out in the fifth inning and Derek Almeda on the Mound, Building Champions was down to its final three outs. Two hits pushed one run across, narrowing the score, 8-4, but Almeda and the Dukes remained poised, grabbing the final out with a grounder to third base.
“We’re getting to the end of the summer,” said Josh Almeda. “I think we all just want to leave everything we have on the field here in Steamboat.”
Although the Dukes dropped its second pool play contest to Slammers-Audino, El Monte will get one more chance to impress fans in Steamboat with a game against the Dallas Tigers on Thursday morning before bracket play begins.
“I fully expect this team to come out and hit,” said coach Almeda. “It’s what we normally do and what the kids love doing.”