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.”