By Kyle Koso
GYPSUM, Colo. – Losing track of the little things put the 13uD2 Next Level Baseball Club squad in a bit of trouble Sunday, threatening to sideswipe their plans to outright win the Triple Crown Vail Valley World Series as the Wichita Wolfpack looked to force a winner-take-all second game in the double-elimination bracket.
Some quality at-bats and determined defense got NLBC back in the groove at the Eagle Sports Complex, in just enough time to post an 8-7 victory and send the team back home to Corona, Calif., in a sky-high mood after their week in the Rocky Mountains.
With Evan Padilla capping a four-run fifth inning with a two-out single, NLBC responded to a 7-4 deficit with a parade of smart plate appearances in the frame, including three walks. Raymond Mejia sealed it with two innings of scoreless relief, with shortstop Gavin Carpenter sprinting into left field for a difficult catch to end the contest.
NLBC’s first-inning mistakes in this close one – letting a wild throw from the outfield bounce away to allow the Wolfpack’s first run, and a baserunner not tagging up on a scoring chance – would not prove to be the final word after all.
“It took a while for some of them to learn how to play the game, maybe just thinking about themselves. This tournament, they all played together,” said NLBC coach Francisco Rodriguez. “It was about slowing things down; they can get excited depending on the situation. Before the game started, you could feel the butterflies – you want to be sure everyone is ready to go and full of energy. After that first inning, you could just relax and play the game.”
NLBC took a 3-1 lead after the first inning, but the Wolfpack ignored the trend and kept fighting. Consecutive hits from Brody Clasen and Grady Myers pushed Wichita ahead, 5-4, in the fourth, and a two-out two-run homer from Hays Ensley extended the lead to 7-4.
Ben Rausch led off the fifth with a walk for NLBC; Carpenter, Joshua Leon and Danny De La Torre followed up with hits, and after a pitching change walks to Mejia and MJ Hernandez loaded the bases. Padilla, who came in as a pinch hitter in the fourth, then punched in with the go-ahead RBI single.
“I was kind of nervous at first, but we started hitting, and that’s when we started feeling better,” said Leon, who had four RBI on the day from the cleanup spot. “I try to not think about hitting home runs, just get on base or get the runners home.”
With runners on first and second in the top of the sixth, Mejia got a fielder’s choice grounder for the first out, putting runners on first and third. A tapper to the mound led to the second out; NLBC used an intentional walk to load the bases, and then Rausch made a dashing, diving catch in center field for the third out. Rausch made another remarkable catch for the second out in the seventh that capped a busy day – three runs scored and four innings pitched after he came to the mound to start the second inning.
“I was afraid those balls were going to drop in center, so I was running as fast as I could,” Rausch said. “I had a rush as soon as the ball was hit to me, especially because it was so crucial. It was a little tough pitching today, especially with the rain, and I was trying to keep the ball try, change the grip I had, but I was able to get the job done.”
11uD1 – The Utah Lumberkings (Spanish Fork, UT) came out of the loser’s bracket Sunday to win twice against the Houston Brewers, first an 8-3 win to force a final game and then a 10-2 victory to secure the title.
14u – Slammers Reign (Parker, CO) got past fellow club members Slammers Black in Sunday’s title game, 13-5.