By Adam Burns
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — The Louisiana BlueClaw Baseball 14u squad put an exclamation mark on its summer baseball season on Sunday.
Playing in its final tournament of the summer, BlueClaw captured the Omaha SlumpBuster 14u D2 championship with an 8-6 victory over the CV Canes at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex.
“We played a lot of baseball games so it’s good to go out on top,” BlueClaw coach David Coleman said. “We did what we intended to do. We wanted to win at least two pool games and be a higher seed, whether it’d be in the top bracket or in the second bracket. It ended up working out for us.”
Indeed it did. BlueClaw, seeded second in the 14u D2 bracket, earned its fifth straight tournament victory on the season with a strong offensive attack and solid defense.
“It’s definitely a grind,” Coleman said of the three-game Sunday format. “We had a little momentum, too, with our recent success. It was good to see them perform under pressure.”
“We played well, our defense was on lockdown and our offense woke up today,” BlueClaw’s Cy Barrow said. “We just had to keep in mind what we were playing for and that’s each other.”
The Canes, seeded fourth in bracket play, bounced back from an 8-2 deficit with a four-run fifth. Landon Bastien delivered the big blow in the frame, a two-run line drive single to right field.
But, after allowing the runs, Barrow settled down, completing 2 1/3 innings of work with four strikeouts.
The Canes managed to get on the board first, plating two runs in the second. BlueClaw responded with three runs in the bottom half of the second to take the lead for good. They added to their lead with four runs in the third and one more in the fourth for an 8-2 lead.
Then, the Canes battled with their response in the fifth.
“That’s the story of this team. They’re never out,” Canes coach Mike Harris said. “You can never count them out. They continued to fight.”
But, in the end, it wasn’t enough to knock off a motivated BlueClaw squad.
“It was a great tournament,” Harris said. “It was the first one we’ve played outside the state of California. I was really proud of these guys for playing nine games this weekend and playing in 14s as a 13-year old team. That’s a lot to say for a young group, so I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
By Adam Burns
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — It may have been his Omaha SlumpBuster debut, but CJ Splettstoesser was at least apprised about one thing.
There are no slouches in this tournament.
"The competition was amazing,” he said. “Everyone put their hearts out there. The tournament was amazing and I love Omaha. It's a blessing to be here today.”
His 13u Minnesota Icemen squad was up for the task. The Icemen on Sunday completed a perfect 7-0 Session 3 slate with a 13u D1 title victory, a 10-0 run-rule effort against the Huntington Beach Stingrays Elite at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex.
“It feels really good,” Splettstoesser said. “It's a big tournament so it felt great to come out here and win it. We kept the energy up, cheered on our teammates, and we hit the ball, fielded it, and pitched well.”
Splettstoesser played a big part in the Icemen’s title win, tallying a two-hit game with a pair of RBI, including one in the game-deciding six-run bottom of the fifth. Also in that inning, Brett Buettner came through with a key two-run single, Nick Terhaar hit an RBI double and Leyten Intricri and Kingston Kost each added an RBI single.
Overall, the Iceman put together 13 hits.
“I'm really happy for these guys,” Icemen coach Nick Caldeen said. “We hit 1 through 12 and it's special to see all of them hit. We didn't have a bad part of our lineup.”
Their offense wasn't the only thing on point. Buettner dealt. He tossed five innings of two-hit, no-run ball with nine strikeouts.
“He's been dialed in this entire tournament. He was unreal,” Caldeen said of his right-handed starter.
The Stingrays, the No. 2 overall seed, also entered the title game with an unblemished record, but as coach Matt Olmstead described, they ran into a hot team at the wrong time.
“The tournament was awesome,” he said. “We're lucky to be here and to play teams from different states and for the top two seeds to meet is pretty special. All of our games were super close. But we just ran up against a good team.”
The Icemen, meanwhile, pulled off the rare perfect SlumpBuster week, going 7-0 and leaving the competition in the rear-view mirror.
“This team has been really special and has gotten close but haven't been able to piece it together by Sunday time,” Caldeen said. “So they came out, some things went our way, we had some pitching leftover and that helped.”
By Adam Burns
LA VISTA, Neb. -- Max Richard couldn’t quite get a feel for his slider on Saturday morning. His curveball? An entirely different story.
“My curveball was really on today,” he said. “It helped me out a lot.”
He could say that again.
Mix in a fastball that was commanded well throughout, Richard tossed five three-hit innings and teammate Ryder Vargas tossed the final two to elevate the 14u Gorillas Baseball to a 4-2 victory over the Spokane Expos Saturday morning at the La Vista Sports Complex. They advanced to 4-0 on the weekend and will play at 11:15 a.m. Sunday in the DI semifinals against Gold Baseball 2025, 7-4 winners against Osseo Maple Grove Storm.
Richard dazzled with four strikeouts and just one walk surrendered on 69 pitches, while Vargas notched the save with one strikeout, one run allowed on a single hit. Richard and Vargas’ success on the mound wasn’t anything new for the Gorillas in recent days. They’ve allowed only just four total runs in their SlumpBuster tourney debut.
“We’ve pitched really well,” Gorillas coach Brian Ferrick said. “We’ve only given up a few runs all week and we had some key hits in that game which was fun to see. It was great. A full team effort.”
Richard, a righty, also credited the entire team.
“It was great to have defensive help out there,” he said.
Playing as one of the top seeds in bracket play, the Gorillas struck first when Vargas drove in Max Ferrick -- who had a double and two hits -- via a groundout to shortstop in the top of the first. Vargas reached on a one-out double.
The Expos joined the Gorillas in the score column in the third. Marco Longo led off the frame with a double down the left field line and came around to score on a throwing error that came off the bat of Logan Spradling.
The Gorillas plated two runs in the fifth. Connor Vandertuig and Jax Flynn provided the spark at the plate. Vandertuig roped a double to left to give his squad a 2-1 lead, and Flynn followed with an RBI single to right to put a bow on a 10-pitch at-bat.
The Gorillas added to their lead in the seventh. This time, Richard helped himself with a run-scoring single to left field. Vargas’ one run allowed came off the bat of Harper Dissmore, who supplied a sacrifice fly to drive in Kirkwood, who tripled to deep right.
Delivering a solid pitching outing himself, Kirkwood, the Expos’ right-handed starter, threw a complete game. He allowed four runs on seven hits and struck out four batters.
“I’m really proud of him,” Expos coach Ricco Longo said. “I’ve never coached anybody that has been able to pitch the way he did and to go as deep as he did and stay competitive as long as he did.”
Unfortunately for the Washington-based squad, the loss meant the end of the road in the Omaha area.
“It’s our second time here. The people here are great,” Longo said. “We love Triple Crown. I couldn’t have been more privileged to coach that set of boys. It was a great weekend.”
But for the Gorillas, once again it was about the pitching on Saturday.
“He was great,” coach Ferrick said of Richard, the Gorillas’ starter. “He’s one of our best pitchers and when he’s pounding the zone and we’re playing defense like that, we just don’t give up a lot of runs.
“He’s got great stuff and keeps hitters off balance. He was tough to hit.”
The Gorillas hope to continue their streak of solid pitching and good defense on Championship Sunday.
“We have to throw a lot of strikes, play good defense, and clutch hitting,” Ferrick said.
“Hopefully, we can win some more tomorrow,” Richard said.
By Adam Burns
LA VISTA, Neb. -- For the first two innings, Elite Baseball and the Scottsdale Sandstorms were heading in the direction of a quick, defensive heavy ballgame.
But the third inning changed everything. A combined 11 runs crossed home plate in the frame, and this 13u SlumpBuster D2 Platinum Championship bracket play contest was off and running on Saturday morning at the La Vista Sports Complex.
After Elite (Arvada, Colorado) struck first with five runs in the top of the third, the Sandstorms responded with a six-spot. But Elite kept the pedal to the medal and eventually hung on for a 10-6 victory.
“Baseball is about who can capture and keep momentum,” Elite coach Danny Vais said. “I’m super proud of my kids. Pitchers battled and our guys kept pressing and good things happened for us.”
It was Elite’s second win on the day, as they opened bracket play with a 1-0 victory over the So Cal Birds. The 2-0 day advanced the squad to the quarterfinals on the way to championship Sunday. They’ll face Hawks Baseball, 17-0 winners over the TSBA Patriots, at 9 a.m.
“We just have to keep our minds in it. If we play like we did today, we can win it,” said Aidan Nesheim, who hit a crucial two-run homer in the fifth inning to give Elite a 9-6 lead.
Elite's bats first came alive in the third to break the scoreless deadlock, tallying six singles to take a 5-0 lead. Cooper Vais got the scoring started with a sharp run-scoring line drive to right. Kellen Conley followed with an RBI single to left, and Kevyn Feldon drove in a pair of runs with a single to right. Ricardo Martinez had the final RBI in the frame.
The Sandstorms, however, didn't panic. Highlighted by Jake Girard’s three-run blast, Scottsdale took a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the third. Girard’s blast, which was sent over the left-center field fence, was set up by an RBI single from Hayden Nguyen, who singled, and Joey Varela, who crossed home via an error. Bryce Luther gave them a 6-5 lead with an RBI single up the middle.
“It was just another Sandstorms moment,” coach Paul Luther said of Girard’s homer, which sent the Sandstorms into a frenzy. “That’s what we do. Six errors don’t help though.”
Elite held on defensively and Nesheim lifted his homer deep to left center to provide the necessary insurance. He knew it was gone, too.
“It gave us the go-ahead and I knew it right off the bat,” he said with a smirk.
“We kind of knew it was coming,” coach Vais said of Nesheim’s home run. “He’s been hitting the ball well for us all year, and Aidan got a pitch down in the zone where he liked it. He just turned and burned.”
The Sandstorms finished 2-2 on the weekend but enjoyed their first appearance in the SlumpBuster tourney.
“It was a great experience. We enjoyed it,” coach Luther said. “We enjoyed the (College) World Series games and everyone was great. We had a tough set-up but we’re excited to see you guys in Colorado.”
The biggest, boldest and brightest youth baseball tournament in the world has returned to the batter’s box for 2021.
Triple Crown Sports is eager to once again produce the Omaha SlumpBuster, which will welcome 388 teams over multiple sessions, beginning with 9u-14u play in and around the city from June 17-20. The tournament continues with sessions set for June 24-27 and June 29-July 1 – officials expect programs from approximately 30 states will be in attendance, with about 60 hotels in the area securing room nights from travel teams.
There are two dedicated Festival Nights at the SlumpBuster (June 17 and June 24), to be hosted by the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex in Council Bluffs, IA. The evening features an on-field skills challenge, vendors and merchandise shopping, pin trading, inflatables and the traditional Burning of the Bats, where two 10-foot wooden bats are set ablaze along with a fireworks display.
All told, more than 55 fields and 16 complexes will be pulled into service for the event, which is showing a strong recovery after essentially being sidelined because of COVID-19 in 2020. That event had 670 teams booked before pandemic restrictions took hold; it featured an all-time high of 736 teams in 2019 and more than 500 teams in each of the previous four years.
The desire to play baseball in Omaha/Council Bluffs in early summer has evolved as well, with Triple Crown’s Pathway Baseball division set to run parallel events June 19-23 (15u/16u) and June 26-30 (17u/18u) in partnership with Iowa Western Community College. In this unique format, teams will stay on campus and be immersed in a college environment with strong competition while college coaches direct and educate along the way.
Barring any surprises, the 2022 SlumpBuster (marking the 20th anniversary of the event) is expecting to return to its previous range of team counts – youth teams get the opportunity to see the College World Series, which runs concurrent with the tournament. The chance to play unique competition from around the nation and check out CWS action are the calling cards for the SlumpBuster.
“Being able to plan for this year’s SlumpBuster was a challenge for programs, but we are thrilled to be right at the 400-team mark and eager to help the youth baseball world regain its momentum after the hurdles of 2020,” said tournament event director Brandon Hardy. “Our event partners – everyone from field crews to hotels and restaurants to city partner allies – hung in there with us and were invaluable assets as we rebuilt this tournament. It’s great to be back in the memory-making business again.”
“Council Bluffs hotels, restaurants, and businesses, in general, are so glad to have SlumpBuster players and fans back this year in a big way,” said Mark Eckman, executive director of the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You never know how much you value something until it’s not there, the way it’s always been. We have missed SlumpBuster players and families and welcome them back with open arms.”
"We look forward to all of the energy and excitement the Triple Crown SlumpBuster tournament will bring back to the city in 2021," said Visit Omaha interim executive director Deborah Ward. "The tournament, which attracts hundreds of young athletes, coaches and families to Omaha, is a beloved summer tradition that adds to the buzz surrounding the NCAA Men's College World Series, and this year translates into an estimated $18.3 million for our local economy."
Follow the event on Twitter @TCSlumpBuster.