by Sergio Santistevan
In South Orange County, CA, one baseball program will tell anybody who walks through their door about its philosophy.
Led by a group of high-level coaches, the Saddleback Cowboys are built off discipline, respect, and development – everything else comes second.
“We’re really keen on fundamentals and development, not necessarily about the wins,” said Saddleback Cowboys coach Wade Jackson. “Teaching them the right aspects of the game … fundamentals, development, respecting the game and having professionalism on the field.”
Growing up in the local area, Jackson has decades of playing and coaching experience. At El Toro High School, Jackson was a two-time All-South Coast League selection. Following his high school career, Jackson went on to play at Saddleback College, a JUCO in Mission Viejo, CA.
Jackson racked up several accolades during his junior college run as he was a two-time All-Orange Empire League selection, 1994 Junior College Player of the Year in the Southern Division, and he broke marks in batting, hits, RBI and runs. Today, Jackson is enshrined in the Saddleback College Baseball Hall of Fame.
After his JUCO run, Jackson played at the University of Nevada - Reno and was selected by the Anaheim Angels in the 1996 MLB Draft.
Once he was done playing in the minors, Jackson’s career switched to coaching youth baseball. A year after retirement, Jackson’s neighbor approached him and asked him to coach his son's travel team, which was one of the only baseball teams in South Orange County at that time.
Through the past 19 years in youth baseball, Jackson has experienced coaching his son to being a co-owner of the Saddleback Cowboys with Chris Malec and Richard Mercado.
Jackson took a few years off from coaching when his son, Jake, was younger but returned when he turned age 8 so he could coach the team. When Jake was ready to go to college, he followed his father’s legacy and chose Nevada where he was named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American in 2018.
Jackson’s co-owners of the Saddleback Cowboys, Malec and Mercado, have plenty of experience on the diamond, too.
Malec was a freshman All-American and three-time All-Big West selection at the University of California - Santa Barbara. He then went on to get drafted by the New York Yankees in 2005, where he was a 2008 Class AA All-Star and three-time league champion who reached Triple-A.
Mercado attended the University of Arizona where he was a captain for the 2004 College World Series team. He was selected in the 12th round of the MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and achieved a nine-year professional career, also reaching Triple-A.
Jackson, Malec and Mercado have focused their post-playing careers on coaching youth baseball, but all three men have families – it can be hard to juggle baseball and their own lives.
“It’s balance, long hours,” Jackson laughed. “We get on the field at usually one and two in the afternoon and we’re at that until nine. Weekends are on the baseball field. It’s tough.”
Despite the long hours, all three coaches find a way to balance their lives and still implement discipline, respect and development in their players.
“We teach them that it’s a hard game, a family game, something you got to work every day at. It’s not something you just show up and throw your cleats on and start throwing the baseball,” Jackson said. “You have to respect it, treat it the way it’s supposed to be treated, and give it your all. This game can be very fortunate for you, take you very far, and do lots of things for you.”
The Saddleback Cowboys coaching staff has set up goals throughout the year for each age group but winning isn’t at top of that list. Development always comes first.
“As they get older that stuff happens because of what they do as they grow … we’re really keen on developing the boys, especially at a younger age,” he added.
Developing the team comes with the respect and discipline that Jackson says is taught even in the youngest teams. A Saddleback Cowboys' rule is that if a player doesn’t show up with his uniform belt, then he doesn’t get to play.
Jackson understands there is more to life than baseball, which is why he wants to teach his players life lessons on top of baseball techniques. His favorite stories to hear from players are the ones where they sign to a college with their help, because it shows that they accomplished their goals of creating good ballplayers and disciplined men.
“It’s just not just baseball, it’s teaching them aspects of life and becoming a young man,” Jackson said. “Teaching them beyond baseball is another thing … not everyone is going to go make that $10 million per year and there are other things in life.”
After a month and a half off from baseball, the Saddleback Cowboys returned to the field in late January. Jackson currently has his team hitting and doing some strength and conditioning as they start to prepare for their spring schedule.
“It comes back to development. Most of our teams get in three workouts a week,” Jackson said. “It’s preparing for them for the fundamentals and situational (baseball) … putting our best foot forward and trying to teach them.”
Despite being away from his family, grandchildren and friends often due to baseball events, Jackson can’t imagine himself doing anything else in life. He calls himself fortunate that he’s been allowed to do something that he loves for his entire life.
“How many people out in the world can say they do exactly what they love every day?” he said. “I get to be on the baseball field 50 percent of the day and almost every day. It’s something that I developed a respect for all my life, and I get to teach it to younger kids now.”
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Baseball superstar Domingo Ayala has always been a gracious champion, ready to share critical insight on how to play the game even if the mortals in the audience would be lucky to even approach his skill set.
But rather than retire early, sit back and wait for his Hall of Fame wing to be built, the YouTube and social media All-Star is back in action, as Triple Crown Sports has announced details for the six stops of the 2020 TC Baseball Domingo Ayala Tour.
This will be the fifth year TC baseball and Domingo have joined forces. He has performed in a variety of settings, from indoor sports facilities, sports complexes, youth baseball fundraisers, corporate events and even in MLB locker rooms. Ayala’s unconventional journey to excellence provides a great deal of comedic material that scores of fans, even those outside the diamond sports, have embraced over the years.
His fearsome batting and pitching statistics, which might be hard to verify, are right in step with these rock-solid and impressive numbers:
Facebook: 321,000 followers
Instagram: 281,000 followers
YouTube: 191,000 subscribers, 38 million total video views
Twitter: 84,000 followers
Here’s the schedule for the 2020 Domingo Ayala TC Tour:
March 13-14 – Arizona Spring Championships, Session 2
March 20-21 – Arizona Spring Championships, Session 3
June 11-12 – Omaha SlumpBuster, Session 1
June 18-19 – Omaha SlumpBuster, Session 3
July 20 – TCS World Series, Park City, UT
July 28 – TCA World Series, Steamboat Springs, CO
“Triple Crown Baseball knows how to muscle up and give the best experience to the youth baseball market, much like how Domingo Ayala muscles up to blast a home run on pretty much every at-bat,” said Sean Hardy, VP of Sports at TCS. “We are thrilled to have him back for 2020, interacting with our fans, signing autographs and taking pictures that make TCS events even more memorable.”
Look for details on upcoming appearances at www.domingobeisbol.com
About Domingo Ayala
At the age of 2, Domingo Ayala started playing baseball. It wasn't long after that when he became one of the best players in his hometown of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. In his pursuit to make it to the MLB, Ayala packed his bags and moved to the United States.
Now, the self-proclaimed best baseball player in the world still claims to be 17 years old. Though many believe him to be slightly older, no one has seen a birth certificate to disprove his claim. As he travels the world teaching baseball, his ultimate goal is still to make it to the big leagues.
About Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing college and youth events for more than 35 years, with more than 90 events scheduled for 2020 in the arenas of youth baseball, fastpitch, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball. The TCS footprint includes both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events and the men’s and women’s 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. TCS youth fastpitch tournaments (including the 900-team Sparkler/Fireworks event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.
by Sergio Santistevan
Back in 2011, three friends had a vision of helping take youth baseball players to the next level. Now in 2020, Golden Spikes Baseball is one of the premier baseball organizations for youth development in the Sacramento, CA region.
Those three friends, Brett Hemphill, Alex Creel and Mikela Olsen, now lead the Golden Spikes coaching staff that consists fully of former professional and collegiate baseball players.
“I think it’s a big factor that draws a lot of really good ballplayers to our organization,” said Hemphill. “The training that we do is pretty rigorous and it’s great. I think the higher-level player is definitely seeking that out.”
Hemphill’s baseball career goes back to the early ’90s when he played at California State University, Fullerton, where he twice played in the College World Series. In 1994, Hemphill was voted “Best Defensive Player” of his team, Honorable Mention All-Big West and All-Tournament for the Midwest I Regional.
After a successful collegiate career, Hemphill went on to play seven years of professional baseball as a catcher with the Anaheim Angels organization. In the minor leagues, he experienced a pair of All-Star Game appearances and earned some hardware with 1995 and 1996 championships.
In 1999, Hemphill recorded a pair of hits in his first two major league at-bats – he’s one of a handful of players to ever record that stat. After an injury ended his career, he finished his professional career with a .270 batting average.
After leaving professional baseball, Hemphill moved into youth baseball as a member of the Hard 90 staff. As coaches with Hard 90, Hemphill, Creel and Olsen eventually decided to branch off and become co-founders of the California Golden Spikes.
Like Hemphill, Creel and Olsen have years of baseball experience. In 1999, Creel was ranked by Baseball America as the 49th best high school prospect in the nation. Creel went on to play at Arizona State and Cal Poly before injuries cut his career short.
Creel has become one of the best pitching experts in Northern California by emphasizing arm health, pitching mechanics and enhanced velocity. With his teachings, several pitchers have broken the 90MPH mark and been drafted in the MLB.
In 2003, Olsen was drafted by the Florida Marlins after a successful collegiate career at Sacramento State where he was team MVP and 2003 Independent Conference Hitter of the Year; he was awarded a spot on the Sacramento State’s All-Decade Team.
Olsen specializes his coaching practices on hitting, fielding and the mental aspect of the game.
The Golden Spikes coaching staff’s goal is to be a third-party set of eyes, which is why they don’t favor having fathers coaching sons on their teams. Hemphill believes this is what separates the Golden Spikes program from others, in how he values a player’s talent over political reasons.
“We’re not knocking the close dad-ball, but what we’re trying to do is have people say, ‘Hey I’m getting a good value for the dollar I’m spending because I’m getting a professional opinion from guys who have played the game at a high-level before who are looking at my kid as just a player,’” said Hemphill.
Some of the main objectives of the Golden Spikes program are to hold players accountable and implement high effort into their players' DNA.
“We try to have these kids write out their goals and try to keep them accountable to adhere to it,” said Hemphill. “We ask them ‘Well, how are you going to get there? You got to do your work, which requires you to try.’ You got to give us effort.”
This season, Hemphill and company have some goals that they want to accomplish on the diamond, as well. In March, the Golden Spikes will head down to Arizona to take part in Triple Crown Sports’ Arizona Spring Championships. The coaching staff is hoping for a good showing in Arizona to start their year off right.
The next tournament the Golden Spikes have circled is Cooperstown Dreams Park. In 2017, Hemphill’s squad made an unbelievable run in the tournament, and he hopes to relive that magic this time around.
“The last time I was there, the team I took finished second out of 104 teams, so I’d like these guys to experience what we went through, because it was an unreal run,” Hemphill said.
Whatever the results happen to be this season, Hemphill and the Golden Spikes coaching staff will continue their main goal of developing young players through it all.
“Coaching has allowed me to do something I’m passionate about,” he said. “It’s allowed me to stay involved in baseball and try to teach young kids the way I was taught.”
by Sergio Santistevan
Players and coaches are preparing for warm weather and fresh competition in Arizona as one of Triple Crown Sports' major baseball tournaments is just around the corner. The Arizona Spring Championships will welcome teams from 17 different states in March, starting with Session 1 (March 5-8) and ending with Session 3 (March 19-22), with age groups ranging from 8u-14u.
The Arizona Spring Championships is held during MLB Spring Training as teams enjoy the beautiful baseball weather under the Southeast Valley and Scottsdale sun.
The Golden Spikes out of California will be in full force in Arizona with six of their teams in attendance across each bracket. Co-founder of the Golden Spikes Baseball Academy, Brett Hemphill, has been looking forward to Arizona since last season.
“We had such a great experience last year,” Hemphill said. “The second we finished last year all of our parents were coming up to us saying, ‘We’ve got to do this next year’… we had such a great time.”
This year, TCS is hosting its biggest Arizona Spring Championships yet with the introduction of Session 3 and the Cactus Camp.
On top of all the game action, players will have the opportunity to improve on their skills and learn the fundamentals of the game from some of the best teaching professionals in the country. Todd Coburn, known widely as “The Catching Guy,” and Bobby Patton will host the Cactus Camp on March 19. Coburn is a former catcher and Division II College World Series participant at Cal Poly SLO, a two-time draft pick of the Houston Astros and a former catcher of the Philadelphia Phillies with 25 years of experience coaching catchers.
Patton, owner of BP Training, is a current coach of more than 10 minor leaguers. He’s worked with 50-plus Division I players and is former coach of the Phenom Signature National Team, which boasted a 43-1 record in 2017 and No. 2 national ranking.
Scottsdale and Chandler will host Session 1 of the Spring Championships. Sumner Bulldogs (Puyallup WA, 10s), Chandler Stars (Chandler AZ, 11s D1), Triple Play (Bakersfield CA, 11s D2), AZ National Baseball Academy (Gilbert AZ, 12s D1), California Aces (Los Alamitos CA, 12s D2), Concord Patriots (Oakley CA, 13s D1), AF Cavemen (Lehi UT, 13s D2), Southern California Baseball Club (Agoura Hills CA, 14s D1) and LA Rockstars (Los Angeles CA, 14s D2) all came out victorious in their respective brackets last year in Session 1.
Wade Jackson, coach of the 14u Saddleback Cowboys from South Orange County, CA., is looking forward to his team showing out in Arizona and enjoying the festivities that come with it.
“Arizona is a key tournament for us,” Jackson said. “Our goal is to go and fare as well as we can but obviously having a good time with the boys, too.”
Session 2 will run next on March 12-15. MVP Hustle IE Wicks (Hemet CA, 8s), So Cal Aztecs (La Puente CA, 9s), LVR (Las Vegas NV, 10s D1), Amarillo Dragons (Amarillo TX, 10s D2), Cory Lidle Baseball (Covina CA, 11s D1), The YARD (Elk Grove CA, 11s D2), Big West BPA Elite (San Clemente CA, 12s D1), NorCal Prospects (Danville CA, 12s D2), CBG Ventura County (Oak Park CA, 13s D1), Colts (Irvine CA, 13s D2), Premier Baseball Club (Battle Ground WA, 14s D1) and Slammers-Balser (Parker CO, 14s D2) took home the hardware in last year’s brackets.
Before Arizona, Jackson will prepare the Cowboys with three practices a week and make sure his team is developed and ready to go.
“We treat this as if it’s a professional tournament,” he said. “We talk to them about why they’re going and the costs that go into going.”
The Spring Arizona Championships consist of a six-game or four-game bracket with all teams advancing to each respective Sunday for a single-elimination tournament.
“We’re looking at playing in a big-time tournament with a lot of tough competition, which is what we love to do, we like to compete and play against the best,” said Hemphill.
by Tanner Puckett
The No. 10 seed Premier Baseball Club jumped out to an early lead and never let it go in a 6-3 win over No. 4 Kings-Martinez in the 14u championship game at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
After a long day of play for both sides, the difference in Sunday night’s championship matchup wasn’t the offense -- it was Premier’s polished defense, heads-up baserunning and solid pitching.
Both sides had six hits each, but Premier’s rally-squashing defense kept the Kings off the scoreboard.
“It’s something we focus on,” said Premier head coach Tyler Long, whose team hails from Battle Ground, WA, a bit north of Portland. “I’ve preached to them that hitting will come and go, but I want to see you bring it on the defensive side. They’ve responded well to that.”
The first instance came in the first inning, when a pair of walks put the first two Kings batters on base. A double steal attempt on a pitch in the dirt found the lead runner caught in a rundown. The next two batters went down in order.
The rally-killer of the fourth inning was a textbook 6-4-3 double play on a hit-and-run attempt, with Premier shortstop Dawson Santana flipping to second just in time for the turn.
The fifth inning saw Kings do damage with two outs and put their first two runs on the board. When Mason Krahn tried to steal second, Premier catcher Trevin Long launched a throw down to nab the runner and end the inning.
The game ended on a play nearly identical to the one in the fourth inning. Another 6-4-3 double play, executed perfectly, took Kings-Martinez (San Antonio, TX) from a one-out, two-on situation to the end of the contest.
It wasn’t only defense that kept the momentum in Premier’s favor. Strong pitching was just as important to the team’s success.
After four tiring games in the Arizona sun, Premier got consistency and stamina on the mound in the form of a six-inning, 94-pitch outing by Andrew Peru.
“I don’t know where he pulled that from,” Long said. “That was amazing. That was ace-caliber stuff.”
Peru pitched out of some tough situations. In a sixth inning where a run had already scored, he stopped the bleeding and escaped a bases-loaded jam by inducing a bouncing grounder to second base.
In the second inning, a loud Kings bench might have fazed someone else. Instead, Peru could be seen grinning as the opposition responded to his pitches. He finished the inning with a strikeout.
“My arm slot was in the right spot. The mound was perfect for my type of pitching,” Peru said.
On the offensive side, alert baserunning was the key to Premier’s success.
After drawing a walk and advancing on a groundout, Santana forced an errant throw from Adrian Herrera while trying to steal third, coming home for the team’s first run as the ball flew into the outfield. Santana’s second trip to the plate was nearly identical to his first, though this time he tagged up from third to score on a Peru sac fly.
“We work on baserunning a lot. Inside, outside, whenever we have the time,” Jayden Ripplemeyer said. Ripplemeyer had a stolen base of his own, along with throwing the final frame of the game for Premier.
Over seven innings, Premier took five extra bases on stolen base attempts and wild pitches.
Any day with four games is a whirlwind, but the final two contests were especially so for Premier. Immediately after finishing their semifinal, they walked across the pathway to the championship field to begin preparing.
In addition to the marathon approach, all four victims Premier’s bracket run were higher seeds - Nos. 7, 2, 6 and 4. The players never felt that they couldn’t get the job done or the odds were stacked against them.
“Having faith in the team and keeping the energy up was key,” Ripplemeyer said. “I knew we had the potential and that we could do it.”
By Bradey King
After not one but two 7-6 nail-biter victories earlier in the day, FAZE Baseball (CA) won game three against the Nogales Outlaws (AZ) in a more graceful fashion, 11-3, to remain undefeated in 11uD1 action at the Arizona Spring Championships on Saturday.
After three full innings, the teams were tied at three, though it didn’t stay that way for long. FAZE bats came alive in the top of four as they produced five hits, six runs and took advantage of two Outlaws fielding errors.
“I keep telling these boys day in and day out the bats have to show up, and they finally showed up,” said FAZE head coach Mark Mercado. “Hopefully they’ll bring their A-game again tomorrow.”
Leading the offensive efforts for FAZE was Jason Dunham and Jayden Vazquez with two hits apiece. Andrew Rodriquez also tacked on two RBI.
Vazquez’s highlight came in the fifth when he smacked a fastball over the left-centerfield fence. Although it wasn’t his first career home run, it was his first in Arizona, which he said was exciting.
“I was kind of expecting an outside pitch but as soon as I saw it going right down the middle, I just sent it,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez was also a threat as a closer on the mound as he utilized the solid defense behind him and threw strikes to catcher, Jason Dunham.
Dunham’s quick release and strong arm threw out two Outlaws runners trying to steal and ultimately helped hold the Outlaws scoreless the rest of the game.
“I feel like our infield and pitching was good,” Dunham said. “I like it (catching position) because I control the game mostly, and if somebody runs on me and I get them out, it feels good.”
Dunham also added that he’s “100 percent confident” his team will head back to California tomorrow with the Arizona Spring Championships trophy in hand. The FAZE squad is the No. 2 seed in the eight-team bracket.
by Tanner Puckett
A pair of big innings sent the 12uD2 Dirt Dogs to a 15-2 win over Power Alley Bockelmann in the teams’ final game of pool play Saturday at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
Power Alley opened the scoring in the top of the first, but the rest was all Dirt Dogs, who notched five runs in the first and eight more in the third to secure a loud victory headed into Sunday's championship bracket.
The Dirt Dogs (Calimesa, CA) put on a master class in small ball and heads-up baserunning in the first inning. The first seven hitters got on base, with a string of five straight hits leading off the bottom half of the inning.
The other two Dirt Dog runners reached first on errant throws. They took four extra bases on wild pitches during stolen base attempts and picked up their first run on a balk by Power Alley starting pitcher Max Meza.
“When we’re getting on base and we’re running, we put a lot of pressure on the defense,” Dirt Dogs head coach John Heaton said. “That’s something we’re good at.”
The Dirt Dogs seemed very fresh for a team that had played a noon game immediately before the contest with Power Alley (Greeley, CO). Not only were they alert on the basepaths, but on defense as well.
A pair of nifty double plays ended the first two frames just as Power Alley seemed to have a rally brewing. The first came with runners on first and second. A grounder to short turned into a 6-4-5 double play with a force out at second and a heads-up tag on a runner trying to advance to third.
The second began with a short bunt placed between Dirt Dogs starter Evan Heaton and catcher Daniel Rodriguez. It was a similar force-and-tag situation, this time involving a throw from Heaton to first base and a laser to home, where Rodriguez tagged the runner attempting to score.
After the Dirt Dogs’ high-scoring first inning, Power Alley’s Meza seemed to stifle their bats with a 1-2-3 second.
The Dirt Dogs answered in kind when Trevor Busby took the mound in the top of the third inning and struck out the side on 13 pitches, featuring a sharp fastball and sweeping breaking ball.
The fourth inning also featured a strong Dirt Dog pitcher, when Trent Gordon collected two strikeouts, allowed one single and ended the game on a grounder to second base.
“They hadn’t pitched yet, so we wanted to get them each an inning before we head into bracket. They’re our two best pitchers,” Heaton said.
Sandwiched between those two pitching performances was a monster half-inning where the Dirt Dogs batted around and flaunted their power stroke. The bottom of the third included 10 runs and nine hits, with two ground rule doubles and two home runs from lefties Busby and Jack Clark.
“Our approach for the whole team is just to hit the ball and make contact,” Gordon said.
It was Busby’s third home run in as many games at the Spring Championships, and he knew his pitch when he saw it.
“It was my favorite pitch, the fastball right down the middle,” Busby said.
The Dirt Dogs will look to carry Saturday’s strong performance into Sunday, having finished 2-1-0 in a tough pool. Making the statement they did in their final pool game boosts the team’s confidence headed into the bracket, where they are the No. 12 seed of 16.
“It feels good. You want to go in with a win and some positive momentum,” Heaton added. “Hopefully we stick around tomorrow; we’ll see what happens.”
By Bradey King
The Arizona Spring Championships wrapped up pool play on Saturday, and in the 11uD2 mix was Northmen (UT) and CBA Sacramento Titans. These squads were evenly matched, and the final score is proof. But it was the Northmen who walked away with the 13-12 victory and earned their second win of the tournament.
Northmen head coach Clayne Garrett said it was his northern Utah teams’ third time playing outside this year, but witnessing their strength with the sticks, you couldn’t tell.
“The boys did a good job, we battled, and we made some mistakes that we’ll clean up as we play more games,” Garrett said. “For the first couple days out, I’m really proud of them.”
The Northmen finished with 13 hits as a team, including seven doubles. The team was consistent, too, scoring multiple runs in every inning.
“We’re fortunate to have a couple nice facilities (in Utah) so we get a lot of swings in, we just don’t get outside,” Garrett added. “So, hitting we usually can swing it a little bit; we struggle on the other side of the ball.”
Those indoor BP sessions paid off Saturday, especially for coach’s son Grady Garrett. Grady went 2-for-3 at the dish with two RBI.
“I felt confident and the confidence comes from just believing in myself and batting practice, getting lots of reps,” Grady said. “We’re a good team and we’re all good guys.”
Grady’s stellar outing was matched by his teammates. Easton Pratt, Brodie Deal, and Crew Denning all had two hits.
The defensive struggles coach Garrett mentioned referred to the four Northmen pitchers combining for 10 walks and giving up seven hits. The defense also had a few errors. Despite all of this, Luke Penland took the mound with poise in the fifth and final inning with a one out, bases loaded situation.
“I was just thinking positive,” Penland said, “to just aim small, miss small.”
Penland was able to turn this pressure situation into a positive outcome. He got a fly ball for out number two and clinched the save by striking out the Titans cleanup hitter, who launched a home run in his previous at-bat.
“It was pretty exciting to end the game and win the game striking him out,” Penland smiled. “We’re gonna come out excited and try to win tomorrow.”
On top of Penland’s pitching performance, he also went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
by Tanner Puckett
The 12uD2 NorCal Prospects slugged their way to a 14-1 rout of the Cascade Crush in their final game of pool play Saturday at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
The Prospects came out strong in the top of the first, leading off with four straight hits. Three of the seven runners who reached base would come around to score, giving NorCal a lead that grew every inning. In four frames against the Crush, NorCal hitters were 14-for-25 with two doubles and a five home runs.
“We work on hitting a lot. We have a lot of cage time,” NorCal head coach Matt Crudale said. “We take a lot of pride in being able to drive the ball and have good at-bats."
They had no trouble driving the ball in Saturday’s game. Of their five home runs, three were to the opposite field. Lefty Jack Karst’s three-run blast cleared the fence in straightaway center.
The bulk of those homers came in the final inning, when Karst, Jackson Chen and Matthew Baur all but decided the game by adding five runs the Prospects’ lead.
“I was just aggressive. We’re trying to hit the ball and make contact,” Baur said.
Baur was a big part of NorCal’s offensive success in the game, going 3-for-3 with a double to go along with his solo shot.
The game was a much-needed win for the Prospects (Danville, CA), who finished a back-and-forth game against the Colorado Select with a tie just moments before first pitch.
A doubleheader in the dry, hot desert can be tough for even adults. Crudale and the Prospects were conscious of conserving arms for the bracket run ahead.
“We wanted to give guys a chance to be successful and effective,” Crudale said. “Really, we have a pretty good squad and have a chance of making a long run tomorrow, so we don’t want to burn pitching.”
That resulted in three pitchers combining to throw four frames for NorCal, though they were all extremely effective in limiting offense.
NorCal’s starter, Lucas Glazier, allowed just two baserunners over two innings, striking out three.
Glazier saved what could’ve been a potential rally for Cascade in the second inning.
Following a hit batter and two consecutive wild pitches, Glazier faced a 2-0 count with a runner on third and two outs. He battled back to strike out Diego Gutierrez swining and end the threat.
“It’s a shift in momentum when you can shut them down and not allow any runs,” Crudale said of Glazier’s clutch performance. “It squashes their rally and gets us ready to start our own rally.”
Rhett Thompson and Dylan Waters combined with an inning each to finish out the game and hold NorCal’s lead.
The only run from the Crush (Bellingham, WA) came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Waters gave up a solo shot to Grady Adams, who had thrown all four of Cascade’s innings and was well over 100 pitches.
All in all, NorCal pitching limited Cascade to just three hits.
Though their Pool C opponent Blackhawks have locked up the top seed in the pool with an undefeated performance, the Prospects have put themselves in a position to pull a great seed headed into the bracket.
Ultimately, the Prospects ended up with the No. 7 seed out of 16 for the championship bracket.
“It feels great to get a little momentum going into tomorrow,” Crudale said. “We’ll get the kids rested up and hopefully come out tomorrow clicking on all cylinders.”
There’s a similar sentiment from the players. On their though process headed into the tournament, Ben Becker had a pretty simple approach: “Let’s not lose, let’s not tie.”
by Tanner Puckett
In an offense-heavy affair in 13u Division 1, the West Covina Dukes (CA) picked up a 10-6 win over the Midland Bandits on Friday night at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
The four-inning game saw 48 plate appearances and 20 hits between the two teams to go with the 16 total runs scored in their first pool play game of the event.
Though there were some loud hits, it was a combination of small ball and slugging that proved effective for the Dukes. They had nearly as many bunts in play (three) as they did extra-base hits (four).
“Guys came through with bunts and we put runners in scoring position,” said Dukes head coach Armando Palacio. “We surprised them when they brought in their third pitcher (Sean Willingham) with a bunt down the third base line.”
That bunt single in the third, placed perfectly by Ryan McNamara, moved runner Garret Dykstra over to third base who would score on the next play. McNamara would also find home plate in the inning.
The other two bunts were laid down in the first inning in consecutive plate appearances. The first, from Charlie Vasquez, drew an errant throw from pitcher Nick Ellis, moving runner Troy Estrada into scoring position. The second, from Dykstra, moved Estrada to third. A groundout from McNamara allowed the runner to score from third.
That single run in the first put West Covina ahead of Midland (TX). The Dukes never fell behind in the contest.
Instead, they put together two doubles, two triples and strings of hard singles to score nine more runs in the final three frames.
One of the loudest hits of the night came off the bat of Mike Villagran, who was 2-for-2 with a single, triple and a sacrifice fly. He connected on the two-strike triple to lead off the second inning and start the Dukes’ scoring.
Villagran showcased an ability to drive in the runner with his fourth-inning, opposite field sac fly, the final run of the game.
“I knew we needed the run and I also knew I needed to go the other way so the runner could score,” Villagran said. “That ended up being a sac fly to right field.”
Colin Olsen also delivered a great performance at the plate, picking up a pair of singles and driving in two runs.
The Dukes’ starting pitcher, Olsen’s final line of six runs allowed over 2.1 innings doesn’t tell the full story. Before a monster third inning from the Bandits that would bring the game’s only tie since the start, Olsen had cruised through two innings, giving up just two hits and a walk while striking out three.
“I was just trying to keep my cool,” Olsen said. “It’s just a normal game and we can get through it.”
After Olsen was pulled in the third, Caleb Nguyen took the mound for West Covina. The first three Bandits reached, but the inning ended on a pickoff at third and a strikeout.
Nguyen found his groove at the end of that third inning. Returning for the fourth, he struck out the first two he faced and induced a weak grounder back to himself for the final out. It was the only one-two-three inning of the game.
“He was great,” Palacio said of Nguyen. “Once he came in for the last inning, he’d settled in and didn’t have to deal with the baserunners. He came in and threw a lot of strikes, and that’s what we needed.”
The Dukes made quite a statement, given a weather-driven slow start to the year. Rain-soaked California has put what would normally be a team in its 12th or 13th game of the year at just six so far this season.
Still, after winning a tournament last weekend, the Dukes are hungry to make a statement. Their offensive outburst was a good start.
“It was huge coming into this weekend because we’ve never been to something this big,” Villagran said. “To show up with a pretty good win tonight is a good way to start it off.”