The 11u Elite Utah Grays had not trailed in the 2018 Triple Crown World Series until they came across Twelve Gold in its opening-round matchup in bracket play. Trailing by four midway through the contest, the Grays flipped the script, erupting for nine runs in one inning, and outlasted Twelve Gold, 12-8, moving into the quarterfinals.
“Right from the first pitch I knew we were in it,” said head coach Jed Chrisman. “Twelve is a phenomenal baseball team and we knew we had our work cut out for us.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the first seed or the 12th seed, anything can happen. Once we pumped in that first strike, I knew these boys were locked in and ready to go."
Starting pitcher Cy Chrisman not only hit the strike zone with his first pitch but set two of the first three batters down with ease. Twelve Gold were desperate to strike first, though. Terri Lawrence’s double scored Tanner Galik, and Lawrence himself scampered home two batters later on a passed ball.
Utah waited until the second inning to begin chipping away at the Twelve lead. Alex Vernon, on the second pitch he saw, rocketed a ball over the centerfield fence.
“I knew I was going to swing at the first strike that I got,” said Vernon. “It was a fastball right down the middle, and I was able to make a good swing.”
Despite the solo home run, Twelve went right back to work in the top of the third inning. A couple of Utah mistakes combined with Terri Lawrence’s second RBI knock of the game stretched the Twelve advantage, 5-1.
“It was a big moment for the team,” Vernon said. “We needed to come up with big hits. Guys were a little down in the dugout and we needed something to cheer us up.”
The Grays’ cheering began with Abraham Atencio’s single to kick off the bottom half of the frame. Atencio quickly made his way to third via a stolen base and a double from Peyton Ingram before scoring on a sacrifice fly from Xaviah Patch to make it 5-2.
Utah’s next out wouldn’t come until four batters came to the plate and three more runs had scored, including the Grays’ second long ball, this time from Cy Chrisman.
“It was a really exciting inning,” said Atencio. “We all just wanted to stay positive and keep the wheel turning.”
In total, Utah brought home nine runs, turning the game on its head, 10-5.
Back in familiar territory with the lead, Utah’s defense began to look just as sharp as its offense. Atencio, coach Chrisman’s shortstop, was the focal point as the youngster would come up with five assists on the afternoon and turned two double plays.
“We replicate those plays every day in practice,” Atencio said. “When it comes to a game, we all have faith in each other to make the play.”
The Grays added two insurance runs in the fourth inning on Vernon’s second RBI of the day and a passed ball that allowed Max Johanson to scamper home. Carrying the lead into the fifth inning, Utah was just three outs away from an 11u Elite quarterfinal appearance.
Andrew Nice was charged with digging up the final three outs for Utah. Though Nice gave up a pair of runs, the game would come to a close with a flyout to center.
“This win was really more about the guys that weren’t playing in the game but were being great teammates from the bench,” said Chrisman. “They were up in the dugout, keeping the starters in it, hustling in and out of the dugout, keeping everything moving. As long as everyone was moving and staying active, it keeps the mindset there to play five, six or seven innings.”
Utah draws the Chino Hills Thunder in the quarterfinals, a familiar opponent they faced just two weeks prior. Though the heavyweight bout looms on Saturday’s schedule, Chrisman will be looking for his players to enjoy the picturesque Steamboat Springs setting.
“I want these guys to enjoy where they are,” Chrisman said. “I want to see them go fishing. I want to see them have some fun. We’ll come back here as long as we can but it’s important for these boys to have a little fun and take their minds off things before we get back at it tomorrow.”