by Austin Green
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Defense wins championships, or so the old saying goes. But it also helps when a team can take a punch and come right back with its own haymaker as soon as it gets a chance.
Dukes Baseball National showed that ability on Sunday, as the West Covina, Calif.-based squad rallied to defeat Slammers Twins out of Parker, Colo. by a score of 7-5 to win the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships Session 4 14uD1 title. The Dukes got it done with superb defense, timely hitting and three crucial innings of relief from Daniel Nageer to seal the victory.
“It’s a never-say-die mentality,” Dukes manager Cameron Saylor said. “They love the game, they know there are going to be those ups and downs and that they have to play until the end.”
Many teams could have folded when the Twins tagged Dukes starter Josh Turner for four runs in the top of the fourth, erasing an early 3-0 deficit and seizing the momentum. But Dukes came right back in the top of the inning, needing just three batters to tie the game at four runs apiece. Ayden Vieth singled, Raymond Castro walked, and Diego Villareal cranked an opposite-field RBI single into left field to even the score.
Three batters later, Jackson Annigan stepped into the batters’ box as a last-second pinch-hitter for Bryce Gonzales with the bases loaded, two out and the game tied.
“I didn’t even know I was going to come up to the plate,” Annigan said. “I couldn’t even get my batting gloves on, but I just knew that my team needed me.”
No batting gloves, no problem – Annigan smacked a ground ball into left field to give Dukes a 5-4 lead. The next batter, leadoff hitter Santiago Ramirez, followed with a two-run base hit to give Dukes some key insurance runs.
“We play the game one inning at a time,” Saylor said. “We don’t care what they do in an inning, we just know we have to match it or beat it.”
The Twins threatened to get right back into the game when Gavyn Bauer led off the top of the fifth with a walk and Nick Martensen reached on an error. Saylor pulled reliever Louis Farias in favor of Nageer, and Nageer responded with three shutout innings. He retired the last seven batters he saw and only faced the minimum in his final two frames despite going up against the heart of the Twins’ batting order.
“I felt good,” Nageer said. “Just kept my tempo, threw strikes and finished the job.”
He got some help from his defense as well. With two on and nobody out in the fifth, Slammers Twins’ Jordan Reiter cracked a hard ground ball up the middle. Dukes shortstop Sebastian Morinaga ranged to his left but misplayed the ball, kicking it to the other side of second base. It looked like the play would go down as a costly blemish on an otherwise stellar day with the glove for Morinaga, who made several nice defensive plays on grounders that could have easily gone for hits against shortstops without as much range.
But instead, Dukes second baseman Jeremiah Madrid scooped up Morinaga’s kicked ball, stepped on second, spun and fired to first for a spectacular double play that drew gasps from several spectators in attendance.
“Defense gets it done,” Saylor said. “Those guys are comfortable with it. We’ve got a lot of middle infielders who can flat-out play and help a lot with run prevention. That play with Jeremiah, he almost made it look like it was deliberate but it was just a heads-up ballplayer type of play.”
Dukes took advantage of some defensive miscues by Slammers Twins in the bottom of the first to jump out to an early lead. Ramirez reached on an error, took second on a wild pitch and stole third, putting himself in position to score on an RBI groundout from No. 2 hitter Carson Baker.
Jacob Jimenez extended the inning with a two-out double and Vieth walked to put two runners on for Castro, who slapped a routine ground ball to short. But the throw from Slammers Twins’ shortstop took the first baseman off the bag, allowing Jimenez to score. Castro took a wide berth from first and raced towards second while the Twins’ defense focused on Jimenez, and pitcher Kannon Smith’s attempt to throw Castro out at second sailed into center field, allowing Vieth to score.
Smith settled down after that, however, allowing his offense to momentarily flip the script in the fourth. Ryan Pardo and Smith cracked back-to-back one-out singles, and Cade Petersen reached on an error to load the bases. Chase Massey followed with a bases-loaded walk to bring home Slammers Twins’ first run of the afternoon and prompt Saylor to pull his starter, Turner, in exchange for Farias. But D.J. Foster followed with a game-tying two-run single to left, and Jackson Roper added a go-ahead sacrifice fly to give the Twins a 4-3 lead and put Dukes on their heels..
In the middle of the fourth, Saylor gathered his players and reminded them to believe in themselves. It turned out that they may not have needed much reminding.
“They know how to play,” Saylor said afterwards. “They understand the game, they know there’s ups and downs with it. Just believe, just do their thing, and they stayed after it and bounced right back.”
by Austin Green
SCOTTSDALE, AZ -- What a difference a day makes.
After going 1-2 in pool play, Woodinville, Wash.-based Elevate NW Team Tyler needed some things to break their way on Saturday in order to sneak into Sunday’s 13u Division 1 playoff bracket as a No. 6 seed. But once they were in, Elevate’s bats slugged their way to three dominating wins, capped off by a 17-3 run-rule-aided triumph over No. 1 seed O.C. Premier in the Session 2 championship game of the Arizona Spring Championships.
Elevate head coach Mark Tyler believed the difference between Saturday’s rough pool play showing and Sunday’s stellar performance at the plate was due not as much to on-field adjustments as much as one key off-field one. Tyler said his squad appeared sluggish on Saturday after a busy Friday checking out MLB spring training facilities and attending the Arizona State baseball game at night, so he instituted an 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday night.
“Everybody responded beautifully,” Tyler said. “We came out and scored a ton of runs today like we have all season so that was really nice.”
Elevate started the scoring early in the title bout with Anaheim, Calif.-based O.C. Premier. One day after losing 6-1 to that very same team in pool play, Elevate doubled their run total from that game in just three batters. Landon Klein led off the game by lining a triple deep into the right-center field gap and then scored on a Chase Clark groundout.
The No. 3 hitter, Max Hemenway, fought off a couple pitches before crushing a home run over the right-field fence at Thompson Peak Park, roughly 315 feet away from home plate.
“(Hemenway is) a really, really, really good player,” Tyler said. “He's actually a guest player for us, and it was awesome to have down here. He was every bit the player that we knew he was.”
After O.C. Premier got one unearned run back off of Elevate starter Ashton Bergman in the bottom of the first, Elevate tacked on three more runs in the top of the second thanks to RBI doubles from Klein and Clark and an RBI single from Lance Burt.
They then blew the score open in the third. Bergman reached on an error and came around to score on a single from Jarrett Tyler, Ryan Sandby reached on a walk and later scored on a delayed double steal, and Jarrett Tyler scored on an RBI single from Cade Landes.
Sandby’s signature moment of the tournament came in the following inning when, with the bases loaded and two out, he worked the count full before sending a deep fly ball over the right fielder’s head, clearing the bases for a three-run triple and pushing Elevate’s score total into the double digits. Sandby then scored on an error to give Elevate a 12-2 lead.
That was more than enough for Bergman, who allowed three runs (only one of which was earned) over four solid innings of work. The lefthander was able to mostly avoid giving up hard contact against O.C. Premier’s powerful lineup, fresh off a semifinal win powered by Nick Davis’s sixth-inning grand slam. Bergman used a combination of rising fastballs and well-placed offspeed pitches to keep O.C. Premier off balance, and even struck out the side looking in the fourth.
“We just needed him to compete and keep us in the ballgame, knowing that our offense was going to take care of business,” Mark Tyler said. “He pitched really well.”
The only suspense in the fifth came down to whether Elevate would add to their 12-3 lead and trigger the run rule that would end the game if they finished the inning leading by 10 or more. Elevate added another five runs, aided by some costly O.C. Premier errors, and Hunter McLauphlin tossed a 1-2-3 bottom of the fifth in relief to seal the win.
“We were really just chasing the sun,” Mark Tyler said. “We were really happy to come down here and play in the sunshine. Awesome group of teams, great tournament, very well put on… It was all about (our kids) today. I didn't coach very much. I told them, ‘Hey, guys, this is your day. Today is your day to go do it.’ And so they did, and I loved it.”
Oliver all over the place; pitching and big hit drives Oaks Elite to win in 14u AZ Spring Championships action
by Austin Green
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz . -- Braeden Oliver threw three solid innings in relief and smashed the game-winning RBI double at the plate, leading Oaks Elite 2026 from Westlake Village, Calif. to a 6-3 victory over Prosper, Tex.-based Canes Southwest Helton in 14uD1 action at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
Jaden Holmes led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk, advanced to third on two straight groundouts, then scored when the Canes Southwest shortstop bungled the tag on a stolen base from Oaks Elite’s Chase Stewart, who ended up on third thanks to the error. Oliver then crushed a fly ball over the center fielder’s head, easily scoring Stewart.
“I was just trying to calm myself down, get a base hit up the middle and score the run from third,” Oliver said.
Oliver was thrown out at third base to end the inning after being waved around second by his father, Oaks Elite manager and third base coach Brian Oliver. But Oaks Elite tacked on two more insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. After Braeden Smith and Tyler Starling led off the inning with a single and a walk, respectively, Joey Moore slapped a sinking line drive just out of the Canes left fielder’s reach to bring Smith home. Two batters later, Carson Richter lined a single into left to score Starling, capping a stretch of five straight Oaks batters reaching base to start the sixth.
“We were having really bad at bats early in the game,” Brian Oliver said. “We were just swinging at bad pitches, letting them get ahead in the count, lots of base running mistakes, you know, kind of a frustrating game. We didn't play all that well, but we still found a way to come through and get the W at the end.”
Oaks Elite did strike first in the bottom of the second when Richter stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single from Holmes. But Canes Southwest came right back in the top of the third when Cannon Webb legged out an infield single, stole second, advanced to third on an error and scored on a squeeze bunt from Lathon Latiolais.
After Starling scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fourth, Canes took the lead in the fifth off of Braeden Oliver when Webb crushed a double to deep left field to score Grayson Myer, then came home on a sacrifice fly from Josh DeBons.
But as it did several times all game, Oaks Elite’s defense helped keep its pitching from getting into too much trouble. This time, it was Stewart at catcher who nabbed Latiolais attempting to steal second base after working a two-out walk. Two innings prior, it was Braeden Smith making a diving catch on a fly ball from DeBons to keep the game tied at one run apiece. In the top of the sixth, Braeden Oliver got some help from a nice play on a grounder from Graves at second base, and a sliding catch from Holmes in right field to end the inning.
“We always take pride in defense,” Brian Oliver said “We always have. These boys, they want to make all the routine plays and they do a great job.”
by Austin Green
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Chris Castaneda threw 3.1 solid innings in relief, James Allen came through in the clutch with a game-tying double and later scored the winning run on a bases-loaded walk, and Claremont, Calif.-based Juggernaut Baseball Red rallied to beat Woodinville, Wash.-based Elevate Northwest-Biell 7-6 in a game shortened to five innings due to time constraints.
The game took place at the Copper Ridge fields in 14u D1 action, Session 2 of the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
After Gino Tariza reached on an error to lead off the inning, Allen worked a two-strike count then perfectly squared up a pitch, drilling it deep into the left-center field gap.
“With two strikes… I can't try to be hitting it over the fence,” Allen said. “It's a big fence, a big field. So I really just saw the ball and decided… to just turn on it and let my hands, let everything I trained for, everything I've done, just let it fly at that point."
Tariza, who was on third thanks to a stolen base and another error, scored easily as the contingent of Juggernaut fans that had made the trip out from Southern California erupted in cheers.
“James is probably one of the hardest working kids I know,” Juggernaut Red manager Ramssey Ochoa said. “It's seven days a week for him. I knew it was just a matter of time that he came through for us in a key situation.”
Juggernaut was only in that key situation because Castaneda, while far from flawless, helped stabilize the team after starting pitcher Jaeden Quenada allowed three first-inning runs. Castaneda entered in the bottom of the second with runners on the corners, the game tied at three runs apiece, and Elevate catcher Rider Walsh at the plate. Castaneda got Walsh to strike out to end the threat.
“Chris has been big for us,” Ochoa said. “He's kind of our leader, he’s kind of our captain and definitely rely on him a lot.”
But Castaneda ran into trouble in the bottom of the third. Elevate’s Carter Smith, who had already recorded a two-run double in the first inning, brought home two more runs with a triple to deep right field to give his squad a 5-3 lead. However, Juggernaut Red got those runs right back in the top of the fourth. Beau Rudometkim led off with a walk and came home to score on a throwing error from Walsh. Omar Trejo later reached on an infield single, took second on a fielder’s choice, and scored on an error by Elevate’s second baseman.
Juggernaut threatened to take the lead, but Castaneda popped out to second to keep the game tied. It was one of several missed opportunities that Ochoa’s team had to add some more runs in the early innings.
“I think there's still a little bit of anxiety when we go out of town to go play in a big tournament,” Ochoa said. “And we forget that we still have to play the game.”
Elevate took the lead again in the bottom of the fourth, jumping ahead 6-5 thanks to a double from Walsh and a single from Kody Moyer. Aiden Jones followed with another single but Castaneda got out of the inning with another big strikeout, keeping his team within striking distance for Allen’s heroics.
by Austin Green
SCOTTSDALE, AZ – The dark clouds overhead at first pitch quickly gave way to warm sunlight, but there was no calming the storm brought down by 12u Cali National Team Pac’s offense on Saturday afternoon. The Irvine, Calif.-based squad, one of two teams from the Cali National program participating in the Arizona Spring Championships, needed just two innings to complete a run-rule 20-0 victory over Visalia, Calif-based CBA South Valley.
All 10 players in Team Pac’s lineup reached base and scored at least one run, as they batted around in both the eleven-run bottom of the first and the nine-run bottom of the second. South Valley struggled mightily with finding the strike zone and fielding balls in play, as Team Pac benefitted from eight walks and six errors while recording just six outs on offense. But they still had to capitalize on South Valley’s mistakes, and they did so on just about every single one of them. Team Pac recorded 13 hits in total, many of which were hard line drives and grounders sprayed to all parts of the field.
“That was huge,” said Pac Gutierrez, the manager and namesake of his Cali National team. “We have a lot of good hitters. We're really deep. We expect to put on a performance like that, especially right before [bracket play].”
That was more than enough support for starting pitcher Logan Pena, who looked sharp in his two scoreless innings of work that ended up counting as one of the shortest “complete game” shutouts imaginable.
“He was just efficient,” Gutierrez said. “First pitch strikes, pounding the fastball, dominating with the fastball, and then capitalizing with the good offspeed pitch.”
Pena worked out of trouble in the first and second innings, finding his groove each time. After a walk, fielder’s choice and error put two on with one out in the top of the first inning, Pena struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
After his team’s double-digit scoring barrage in the bottom of the first–which he contributed to with a walk and run scored of his own–Pena needed extra pitches to warm up for the top of the second, and still did not look quite warm enough when he allowed three straight singles to start the inning.
But his defense picked him up as a relay from left fielder Isaiah Vega to third besman Ethan Torres to catcher Xavier Gurrero nabbed South Valley’s J.D. Moreno at home plate for the inning’s first out, then Pena again responded with two strikeouts to finish the frame.
“After they had the hits, I just got that one strikeout and fell in a groove,” Pena said.
South Valley’s defense, on the other hand, consistently made life tougher on pitchers Jackson Todd and Camden Rodgers. With two outs in the first inning and only two runs in, Todd had a chance to get out of the top of the first when Torres hit a sharp ground ball to third, but third baseman Gabriel Gutierrez proved unable to make a play. After Bryan Serna walked to load the bases, Vega laced a two-run single to center, and the ball got past the center fielder to bring a third run home, extending the lead to 5-0.
The gaffes then continued piling up for South Valley. A ground ball to first baseman Gilberto Ortiz could not produce the third out when the throw to Rodgers, who had just been moved from first baseman to pitcher and was now scrambling to cover first, bounced off his glove. Later, an infield pop fly off the bat of Anthony Sanchez, batting for the second time in the inning, landed between three South Valley fielders and brought home two more runs for Team Pac.
The bottom of the second brought more of the same. Team Pac added two more runs in its first three batters with a walk, hit by pitch, double steal and finally a two-run single from Vega. Guerrero, Sanchez, Anthony Tong and Lennox Minor all added RBI singles of their own later in the inning to put the finishing touches on the rout.
“It means a lot [to win this way],” Gutierrez said. “Seeing how tomorrow we’re going to go into the [division one] bracket, it helps keeps our bats fresh. It helps save some arms for us and now tomorrow we’re going to go in pretty fresh with some big arms.”
Blaze Baseball Club is the top seed in the 12u bracket.
by Austin Green
CHANDLER, AZ – Based out of Gilbert, Ariz. just a few miles down the road, the boys of the Desert Thunder 14u baseball team looked to defend their home (or close-to-home) turf against the San Rafael, Calif.-based Future Prospects at Snedigar Park on Saturday. They did just that, cruising to an 8-1 victory at the Arizona Spring Championships behind six stellar innings from starting pitcher Dylan Wildrick.
“Oh my gosh, [Dylan] was phenomenal,” said Desert Thunder manager Garry Talley. “He gave up one run that wasn’t even earned. He was very controlled, worked the zone around, kept the guys off balance, did a great job.”
In addition to that one unearned run, Wildrick had four strikeouts and gave up just two hits and one walk. He retired seven of the last eight batters he faced and also did damage with his bat, singling and scoring a run.
“I think my curveball worked a little better as the game went on,” Wildrick said.
Wildrick also got some help from his defense, including a nice diving catch from second baseman Robby Hirsch to end the top of the sixth. Ezekiel Zion threw a scoreless seventh inning in relief to slam the door on Future Prospects, notching two strikeouts of his own.
By then, the game was already pretty far out of reach for the visitors, as Desert Thunder wasted no time revving up its offense. After a Tanner Decker single and Ivan Rubio walk put two on with one out against starting pitcher Eddie Kideckel in the bottom of the first, Arius Rubio (no relation) stepped up to the plate and noticed Future Prospects’ outfielders were playing shallow.
“We’re always thinking, ‘Fastball, sit on [the pitcher’s] fastball,” Arius Rubio said. “So my mindset was that I was going to get a good fastball and hit it over their heads. Which is what I did.”
Arius Rubio ended up on third with a two-run triple to give Desert Thunder a quick 2-0 lead, then scored on an error later in the inning to cap off a three-run opening frame for his team. Desert Thunder added another run in the second when Kade Williams reached on an error and came around to score on a triple from Zion.
Future Prospects got on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth when leadoff hitter Max Matthews reached on an error, advanced to second on a slow groundout, stole third base and scored on a groundout by teammate August Block.
Desert Thunder got the run right back in the bottom of the inning when Kade Williams reached on a fielders’ choice, advanced to third on back-to-back singles, and scored on a wild pitch.
The home team then blew the game open in the fifth. Ivan Rubio led off with a single, eventually stole second and third, and scored on an RBI single from Nate Nielsen. Wildrock singled to advance Nielsen to third, stole second, then advanced again on a wild pitch that also scored Nielsen. Eric Talley then brought Wildrick home with an RBI single of his own.
“We have a saying: Stay the course,” Garry Talley said. “They stayed the course and they just keep going.”
FORT COLLINS, CO – With the sporting world continuing its rebound to a more normal schedule, Triple Crown Sports is eagerly anticipating the launch of its iconic early-season youth baseball event, the 2022 Arizona Spring Championships.
With the popularity of the tournament on the rise, there will be five sessions of 8u through 14u action taking flight throughout metropolitan Phoenix as 19 of the 31 days of March will feature TCS teams on the diamond. Sessions are slated for:
With the schedule now released, here are the important numbers to consider on the Arizona Spring Championships:
“Here in Scottsdale, March is synonymous with baseball, and we are thrilled to once again host Triple Crown Sports’ Arizona Spring Championships,” said Rachel Sacco, President and CEO of Experience Scottsdale. “During the tournament, teams will play our top-notch fields while crowds will soak up our beautiful, warm sunshine.
“Off the diamond, players and their families will explore all the city has to offer – outdoor adventure opportunities, unique family-friendly attractions, world-class restaurants and more. Experience Scottsdale and our entire hospitality community look forward to welcoming competitors throughout the month.”
The 2022 event lands at an important time for area businesses with the current delay and lingering unknowns about MLB Spring Training. Triple Crown schedules its teams during the Arizona event so everyone can catch spring training games, but even with the uncertainly surrounding MLB’s intensions, 2022 marks a record year for registrations for the Arizona Spring Championships.
“I personally want to thank the 530 teams for making Triple Crown Sports and Phoenix, Arizona a part of their 2022 schedule,” said TCS event director Matt Pilcher. “I also want to thank my great facility partners and the lodging community for welcoming us in March. It’s going to be a lot of fun for the kids.”
About Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing youth, high school and college events for 40 years. TCS runs both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events and produces the men’s and women’s DI Cancun Challenge tournaments in November. Triple Crown is also powering “WNIT” concept events in D-I softball (NISC) and volleyball (NIVC), with those two events debuting in 2017. Triple Crown’s PV College Challenge features 8-10 of the top DI college softball teams in the country each year in Puerto Vallarta, MX. TC fastpitch tournaments (including the 1,000-team Sparkler/Fireworks event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes. TCS produces one of the largest youth baseball events in the world with the 550-team Omaha SlumpBuster during the College World Series. The Triple Crown Volleyball NIT has become the top-recruited club volleyball event in the country each February when 550 teams compete in Kansas City, MO.