By Thomas Hoffman
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Lubbock Baseball Academy took little time to assert themselves Friday in the first round of bracket play in the 13u Elite Division at the Triple Crown World Series. Opening with five runs, Lubbock cruised into the quarterfinals with an 18-7 win over Inland Valley Venom.
“We’ve always swung the bat pretty well and we wanted to continue that momentum,” said LBA head coach Taylor Fortney. “The one benefit of being a lower seed is that you get your sticks first. We came out looking for pitches to hit, our boys were aggressive and we had good results.”
Fortney’s crew certainly look determined from the get-go. Eight of the first 10 Lubbock batters that stepped into the batter’s box all reached safely. In an inning that featured five runs on five hits, it was Nano Mendoza’s three-run bomb that stood out the most.
“First pitch, I was expecting a fastball right down the middle,” said Mendoza. “I jumped on top of it and it ended up clearing the fence.”
With a sizeable lead in hand, starting pitcher Landon Hutcheson had plenty of breathing room to work with.
“I had a lot of confidence walking out to the mound in that first inning,” Hutcheson said. “I had good command of my fastball early. My changeup and curveball began to come around as the game progressed.”
Timothy Haynes’ RBI single added a run in the second inning before Lubbock exploded for four more runs in the third. Eli Reeves, Ashton Lucio and Hudson Hutcheson each collected RBI doubles as the Lubbock lead stretched to double digits, 10-0.
Inland Valley managed to squeeze two runs across in the home half of the third and another in the fourth, but the persistent defense combined with Hutcheson’s command of the strike zone kept the Venom at arm’s length.
“We’ve struggled to throw strikes this first couple of days,” said Fortney. “Landon was able to go out there, take control and let our bats take care of it. We knew that if we kept their runs to a minimum, our hitting would take care of the rest.”
With both teams holding serve in the fifth inning, Lubbock looked to put the game on ice in the sixth. Eight more runs, including a three-run home run from Bryce Leblanc and a second three-run rocket from Mendoza skyrocketed Lubbock’s run to total to 18.
“Sometimes it can be hard to stay focused when you’re up big,” Mendoza said. “I kept seeing off-speed pitches after I hit my first home run. I waited patiently for another fastball. When I saw it in that last inning, I was ready.”
The Venom fought for four hard-earned runs in the bottom half of the sixth as the two-hour time limit expired, but the effort was too little, too late for the California Natives as Lubbock moved on to the 13u Elite quarterfinals.
“It’s been impressive to watch this team come together,” explained Fortney. “It’s the end of a long summer but their camaraderie is off the charts. It’s 10 guys coming together on and off the field. They’re off doing excursions when we don’t have games, they’re in each other’s condos at night.
“It’s been fun to watch them come together and then be able to turn around, get better as individuals and have a great run at a tournament like this.”
Lubbock will lock horns with the Dallas Texans in the quarterfinals in a matchup to be played at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday. Facing the No. 1 overall seed and an intrastate rival, Lubbock will be fired up to continue its 2019 World Series run.
“Not many people get to come down here at the end of the season and play baseball,” said Hutcheson. “It’s a cool experience we’re looking to cap it off with a win.”