Fans cannot complain about the excitement the 13u Elite Saddleback Cowboys bring to the table.
Through six games in the 2018 Triple Crown World Series in Steamboat Springs, CO, the Cowboys have put together double-digit run totals in all of its contests. The only black mark on Saddleback’s record is a 13-12 loss to Slammers Armour. In Saturday’s semifinal matchup against BC KC Rawlings Prospects, Saddleback battled back from an eight-run deficit to win, 16-10.
“To be down eight to nothing is tough in any game you’re playing in,” said head coach Richard Mercado. “I know these boys. They can score runs with the best of them. They just have to stay positive and confident.”
Saddleback dug themselves a mighty hole to climb out of right out of the gate. The Prospects tallied six runs, including a two-run blast from Easton Wasinger. After two more runs in the second inning, KC had a sizable advantage and virtually all the momentum, leading 8-0.
“With our hot bats, we knew we could score runs,” said the Cowboys’ Blake Wilson. “We just had to keep our heads together and hit the ball.”
Adjusting to the speed and power of the Prospect pitching staff, Saddleback began the long road back with a duo of timely hits in the bottom of the second inning. Dylan Werhas and Dominic Smaldino each batted in a run to get the Cowboys on the board.
The journey continued with Wilson leading off the third frame. Wilson’s single sparked four consecutive hits from the California kids, resulting in four runs, creeping within two, 8-6.
“We weren’t seeing a ton of off-speed pitches,” Wilson said. “Especially that second time around, I was really concentrated on looking for the fastball and hitting it the opposite direction.”
Sensing the momentum swinging to the opposite dugout, the Prospects rallied for a response of their own in the top of the fourth inning. Wasinger, KC’s run machine, drove in his third of the afternoon in a two-run effort that put the Prospect back on top by four, 10-6.
There would be no stopping the Saddleback offensive locomotive, however, as Mercado’s boys went back to the plate hungry for more in the bottom end of the inning. For the first time since the opening frame, Saddleback would draw level, 10-10, with back-to-back RBI doubles from Blake Wilson and Landyn McKeown.
Back in the game, Mercado tabbed Wilson to head to the bump to keep the Cowboys in the contest. Right away, Wilson’s precision stunned the Prospects as KC went down in order in the fifth inning.
“Drew (Rutter) did a great job early throwing strikes against a good hitting team,” Mercado said. “Blake came in there and did what he does best. We couldn’t have asked anything more from him.”
The Cowboys vaulted into the lead in the bottom end of the fifth, capitalizing on a pair of KC errors. Wilson, with his team now ahead 11-10, remained focused on keeping the advantage.
“I was trying to keep them inside the ballpark,” explained Wilson. “I knew if they hit a home run, it would either tie it up or they would go ahead, and we would lose our momentum.”
Not only did Wilson keep them off the base pads, he nearly kept them off first base altogether in the sixth inning, giving up just one hit before exiting the inning.
With Wilson dominating on the hill, Saddleback may not have needed extra insurance but the Cowboys were determined to give it to him anyway. By the time Drew Rutter stepped into the batter’s box, the bases were loaded and there were no outs. As the wind whipped in from centerfield Rutter managed to pierce through the mountain air and send a rocket over the wall for a grand slam.
“It was a new pitcher and I hadn’t face him before,” Rutter said. “The first pitch was outside. I tried to drive it to the left side of the field and it worked.”
The Cowboys tallied two more, giving Wilson six runs to play with for the final three outs. Throwing up his third consecutive shutout inning, Wilson slammed the door shut on KC, sealing the win and a championship birth in the 13u Elite division, 16-10.
“These guys are the same animal they’ve been all year,” said Mercado. “They’re competitive and they’re hungry for more, certainly after a win like this.”
Saddleback moves into Sunday’s championship game where they’ll await the winner of the BC KC Prospects and the Utah Yard Dawgs. Sitting atop the winner’s bracket, the Cowboys just need one win to take home the crown.
“We just need to stay positive,” said Rutter. “We don’t need to do much else, we’ve been playing pretty good baseball and I know we ’ll keep it going tomorrow.”