By Thomas Hoffman
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Despite hailing from Southern California, the El Monte Dukes didn’t need time to adjust to the thin mountain air of Colorado. Bats in hand, the Dukes put up double-digit run totals in two of its three pool play games, including a 25-8 victory over Building Champions-Olson.
“We’ve just been playing good all around,” said head coach Jorge Almeda. “Our pitching has been good all around, the defense has been on and our hitting is just starting to come around.”
It didn’t take long for El Monte to flex its power. The Dukes’ cleanup hitter Malaki Pelayo stepped to the plate in the top of the opening frame with two runners already aboard. Wasting little time, Pelayo rocketed a two-run shot over the fence, setting the tone early.
“I was trying to hit for power,” explained Pelayo. “I was just trying to work line drives. Their pitchers were hitting their spots inside. I just made a good swing on one.”
Two batters later, Ernesto Garcia matched Pelayo’s effort with a home run of his own, launching one over the right-field fence.
“I was honestly just trying to get on base,” Garcia said. “He threw one down the middle and I jumped on it.”
Watching six total cross the plate in the top half of the first, Building Champions were determined to mount a similar effort in the bottom half. Sending eight players to the batter’s box, Building Champions managed four runs to pull within two, 6-4.
However, El Monte kept the pedal to the metal offensively. The second inning saw 13 runs for the Dukes, highlighted by a second home run from Garcia and a three-run shot from Victor Morales.
“We always hit pretty well as a group,” Almeda said. “Of course, the thin air up here compared to California helps, too.”
Building Champions put up its second consecutive four-spot in the bottom of the second inning but despite all its offensive success, the Kansas City natives still trailed, 19-8.
For El Monte, remaining focused on the task at hand became the primary objective.
“It’s crucially important to stay focused, especially in pool play,” said Almeda. “Every run matters when you’re going for that top seed, and we really wanted that top seed.”
Relief pitcher Justin Cardenas made sure the 11-run advantage remained intact during the middle parts of the contest, allowing the offense to put up six more in the top of the fourth to stretch the El Monte margin, 25-8.
By the time the bottom end of the fourth inning came around, the Dukes needed just three outs to secure its win as the two-hour time limit passed by.
Almeda turned to Victor Morales to finish out an already successful afternoon for El Monte. The hard-throwing right-hander surrendered two walks but fanned three Building Champions batters to close out the game.
“Like I said, our pitching has been spot on,” Almeda said. “Everyone we’ve thrown out there has been able to do what we’ve asked them to do.”
The impressive victory earned El Monte exactly what it was looking for, the No. 1 overall seed in the 13u Platinum Bracket. The Dukes will begin bracket play on Friday afternoon as they await the winner between Ruachis and Bombers Baseball Club Blue.
“We came here to play hard and get the win,” said Pelayo. “We need to stay error-free and keep hitting those pitches over the plate and we’ll be just fine.”