An early loss in in bracket play might’ve deterred most teams from picking themselves off the dirt and making a strong statement in their next contest, but most teams aren’t the 10u Utah Horns.
A loss early Friday morning against the Lone Tree Halos put Beau Papadakis and his squad in a tough position to try to ride their way through the bottom end of the TCSB Division I bracket. Papadakis couldn’t ask for a better response, though, cruising past Millard Elite, 11-2, to stay above water.
“We gave them each a goal to start this game,” said Papadakis. “Everyone was responsible for a runner to score or to bat in. We always bat 12 because that’s part of our team philosophy, and they answered with 11, and I couldn’t be more proud of this team for answering our call.”
Utah’s scoring clinic started in the opening frame with a single run, but it wasn’t until the third inning when they started to break the game open. Loaded bases provided the perfect opportunity and the Horns wouldn’t let it slip by, capitalizing with hits from Jaxon Soto, Xaviah Patch and Alex Vernon to drive in four runs and taking a commanding 5-2 lead.
On the mound, Case Beams dialed up one his best performances of the season. It was sweet redemption for Beams, who gave up 11 runs the first time he saw Millard Elite in pool play. Two runs was all Millard could muster on Friday as a focused Beams mowed down hitters one after another.
“My teammates were the ones giving me a great deal of confidence,” said Beams. “They were cheering me on every step of the way. They also gave me great run support that allowed me to pitch with confidence.”
While other teams around the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex might make use of a boom box or amplifier to create noise, the Utah Horns rely solely on the heart of their players. With each pitch and each at-bat, the Horns can been seen (and it would be hard not to hear) encouraging each other from the dugout with a variety of youthful cheers.
“I lost my voice in the last game,” said Papadakis. “I think they picked up my slack this afternoon.”
Even with a 5-2 advantage, Utah stayed hungry for runs.
Twice more the Horns would load the bases in the fourth and fifth innings. Papadakis’ team wouldn’t plate any the fourth inning, but refused to squander the opportunity in the fifth inning, grabbing two more runs, including a second RBI from Patch.
Soto solidified what was an all-but-on contest with a bases-learing double in the top of the sixth inning. More importantly, the now nine-run cushion let Papadakis go to his bullpen and save an inning of work for Beams.
“Case threw a gem today,” said Papadakis. “He threw five nearly perfect innings and did everything I could’ve asked from him. That team beat him up earlier in the tournament, and it was awesome to see him turn it around like that.”
In came Soto. Already with an RBI on the day, Soto stepped in and picked up exactly where Beams had left off, securing the three-out hold and the victory, 11-2.
“In this tournament, if you don’t make a plays, teams will jump on the opportunity.” said Papadakis. “We don’t get competition like this every day back in Utah. It’s nice to expose these kids to an elite field where they have to perform on a game by game basis. It’s one of the biggest reasons we look forward to coming to Omaha every year.”
Utah’s win pushes them forward in the TCSB Division I bracket and will take on the Dirty South Venom on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. in Council Bluffs. It’s still a long road back to the championship for the Horns, but with the energy and camaraderie they displayed Friday afternoon, it might be a cinderella finish for Utah.