Opening day of the 13u Elite Division at Session 2 of the Triple Crown World Series in Steamboat Springs, CO, looked more like a home run derby for the Omaha Pacesetters and Slammers (CO) Armour.
Slammers arrived at Howelsen Hill after already taking down West Coast Baseball, 4-3. The Pacesetters, on the other hand, were just dipping their toes into the tournament. Six home runs later, three for either side, left the two programs tied after seven innings, playing to an even 12-12.
“It’s kind of a big tournament,” said Brayden Anderson of the Pacesetters. “It’s probably the biggest tournament I’ve played in. I was excited to see what the competition was going to be like and what our team could do out here.”
It was Omaha who struck first. Noah Findeis and Drew Borner led the frame off with back-to-back walks. Two batters later, Rice Whitaker drove Findeis in with a single. Borner would follow Findeis’ lead, scoring a couple of plays later on a passed ball.
Starting pitcher Conlin Grady was solid from the get-go for the Pacesetters, escaping from a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and retiring the side in order in the second. His quick work on the bump allowed Omaha a chance to extend its lead.
The two teams traded one-run blows in the bottom of the second and top of the third stanzas. Drew Borner and Brooks Rodarte claimed an RBI for Omaha and Slammers, respectively.
Already leading 3-1, Omaha was looking to pull away in the bottom of the third.
“We just wanted to come out and compete,” said Easton Mains. “We were up early and had a pretty good lead but we were always looking for more.”
Mains kicked off the frame with a walk and was the first of three runs to touch home plate as the Pacesetters stretched its lead, 6-1. He would help out his squad in an even bigger way late in the contest.
Armour, as they would prove multiple times throughout Wednesday afternoon, would not go down without a fight. With Isaac Wachsmann already aboard with a single, Braden Hawthorne rocketed the first home run of the game over the fence, bringing Slammers within three, 6-3.
“I saw inside fastball,” explained Hawthorne. “I had been waiting for that pitch all day, I got it and I just took my opportunity.”
Following Hawthorne’s lead, Wachsmann equaled his long-ball effort in the very next frame. Though Wachsmann’s home run was only a solo shot, Slammers had already come up with two runs on a two-RBI single from Soren Angelini, meaning Armour had climbed all the back to tie the game at six.
“I knew we had the comeback in us,” said Wachsmann. “We’re all brothers and we all believe in each other.”
Trailing for the first time all afternoon, a previously 0-3 Camden Kozeal stepped to the dish with a determined mindset.
“I was really struggling early,” Kozeal said. “I told myself I better do something with this next pitch or I’ll be sitting on the bench in the next game. I saw a fastball and finally made a good swing.”
Kozeal’s first contact not only put the ball in play but sent the ball on a direct trajectory toward the summit of Howelsen Hill, propelling his team on top once again, 8-6.
Tensions mounted as the game drew towards its waning moments. Slammers added run in the sixth to pull within one and then exploded in the top of the seventh for four runs, including the team’s third home run at the hands of Jackson Wilkerson.
“We were really pumped after coming back earlier in the game,” said Wilkerson. “I was really pumped to go up there and hit. I saw fastball inside, my favorite pitch.”
Though it seemed improbable, Omaha had one last chance at a miracle. Back-to-back walks from Kozeal and Whitaker set the stage for Easton Mains. Mains cranked a fastball low and away well over the 314-foot mark in centerfield, drawing a swath of cheers from the Pacesetter faithful on hand as their team was down by just one run, 12-11.
Two batters later, Brayden Anderson conjured an even louder roar as his solo shot tied the game at 12. Though the game came to an end in the next at-bat, leaving the ballpark as equals seemed only fair after the barrage of offense displayed from each team.
“It’s just baseball for us,” said Anderson. “We go out there and compete and we’ll look to do the same tomorrow.”
Omaha will take on the Utah Yard Dawgs Thursday morning for the second of three pool play games in the 13u Elite Division. Meanwhile, Slammers face the Saddleback Cowboys, hoping to finish off an undefeated journey into the championship bracket.