After some diligent work in pool play, earning the No. 1 overall seed, KC Clutch of Overland Park, Kansas, entered Friday with the same mentality as the day before. Opening bracket play with a thrilling 5-4 win over the Dallas Raiders, the Clutch followed up with a workman-like 9-4 victory against Colorado Elite, vaulting the Clutch into the semifinals of the 12u TCSB Invite Only Division.
“It was good to get some wins under our belts in pool play and get some confidence going into bracket play,” said head coach Travis Huenfeld. “You never know how the kids are going to react when you come up here to an invite-only tournament. I’m proud of the way my team has battled thus far.”
Starting pitcher Blake O’Brien threw up a quick zero in the top of the first inning, recording two of his four total strikeouts.
When the offense came to bat, they were prepared to get their pitcher a little run support. The party started with Chris Coy’s RBI triple and then O’Brien himself matched Coy’s extra-base effort, vaulting the Clutch into the early lead.
“I got a fastball right where I wanted it,” Coy explained. “When I saw it leave the pitcher’s hand, I knew I could take advantage of it, and I did.”
O’Brien marched back to the mound and kept the KC mojo going through the second inning. Three Colorado Elite players stepped into the batter’s box, and all three returned to the dugout empty-handed.
“With both my fastball and knuckle curve, I was consistently hitting my spots,” said O’Brien. “It’s hard to get a hit when I’m getting the right spots like I was today.”
After scoring two more runs to stretch the lead, 7-0, the Clutch ran into a bit of trouble in the third inning. Dominic Gamueda and Matthew Casillas each came up with a RBI in a four-run frame that brought the Elite back within striking distance, 7-4.
Blake O’Brien, making a strong campaign for player of the game, delivered his fourth RBI of the contest and came around to score, giving the Clutch a little room to breathe with a 9-4 advantage.
“I was expecting fastball first pitch every time,” said O’Brien. “That mentality, combined with the way I was reading the ball today was probably the reason I was having success at the plate.”
Coy replaced O’Brien on the bump in the fourth inning. Like O’Brien, Coy was dominant early and often, closing out the game with two no-hit innings and three strikeouts.
“Unlike Blake, my off-speed pitches weren’t really working,” said Coy. “My fastball, though, seemed to be getting by them. Once I hit a couple of my spots in a row and gained a little confidence, I was able to find a rhythm.”
KC Clutch’s win advances the team into the semifinals of the winner’s bracket in the 12u Invite Only Division. The Clutch will face Stl Force with the winner claiming a spot in the championship game.
“I felt like we were a little lethargic today,” said Huenfeld. “We didn’t quite have the focus at the plate that I’m used to seeing. You have to win ugly sometimes, though, and we’re still set up with some of our better pitchers, which is a major key in these long tournaments.
“I think we’ll come out focused and energized tomorrow. We were here last year and I think we’ll be able to use our experience to propel us going forward.”
Sometimes you get a score out of a baseball game that really obscures and alters the true nature of the contest.
It was no heat-driven hallucination or mirage Friday as the Total Baseball Vipers Navy (CA) posted a 16-3 victory over the Cincy Flames (OH), as the Vipers truly did advance in the 13u division of the TCSB Invite at the SlumpBuster. But the end result did look curious, as the Vipers only led 2-1 after three innings and had stranded a slew of baserunners.
Fortunately, pitcher David Lozano had all his tools working and didn't seem bothered by the sultry conditions or the sight of runs left on the table. He faced the minimum nine batters through innings 2-4, and eventually the Vipers offense took off with quality at-bats and aggressive baserunning. Five runs came across in the fourth and nine more rocked the scoreboard in the fifth.
The Vipers (who topped the Memphis Tigers 6-0 earlier Saturday) will face the 3n2 Warriors (CO) Saturday morning, with the winners clinching a spot in Sunday's championship game.
"David kept us in the game, there's no question. He gave us a chance to stay close and take advantage of some opportunities that came up later," said Vipers coach Tom Musehorn, whose team had tied the Flames 5-5 in Wednesday's pool play. "We just come out here to play and get better, and to get the guys ready for the next level, quite honestly. It's about trying to get better and get them ready for high school."
Lozano allowed two hits to the first three batters but kept the damage to one run, and the two runs that the Flames scored in the fifth were unearned.
"I was just thinking, throw strikes and get the team back in the dugout," said Lozano, who had four strikeouts and did not walk a batter. "It's hot out here, so I wanted to keep throwing strikes. We've had some moments when our players have come through, big time with hitting. We talk about staying within yourself."
Fueling the offense was leadoff hitter Dean West, who had four hits and scored four times, impressing everyone in the area with his speed around the bases. He scored the first two runs, one off a groundout from Tyler Garcia and the other off a single by Ethan Munoz.
"I try to go up there and drive the ball, hit one hard," West said. "I thought we've done really good here; we've been aggressive, and that's what we really need to do. It's not even one game at a time for us, it's one inning at a time, one pitch at a time."
Munoz had two RBI for the Vipers, and Owen Carlson also drove in two runs. Lozano doubled and scored in the fourth inning. For the Flames, leadoff hitter Easton Eibel was a shining light, rapping three hits and scoring two runs.
The Flames will take on the Memphis Tigers in the loser's bracket Saturday; also still alive in that part of the 13u TCSB journey are the AZ Athletics Elite and the NTX Eagles.
In the TCSB 14u division, Armour Baseball (CO) will play locals Millard Elite Saturday for a berth in the championship game Sunday.
When it comes to getting ready for an early-morning game, the Easley Baseball Club 10u team may need to adopt more aggressive wake-up options and bring in roosters, alarm clocks and Marine barracks sergeants.
But the squad from just outside Memphis, TN., didn't need to be told twice about the need for focus, as Easley won its second game Thursday during the start of pool play at the SlumpBuster, rumbling past the DBI Blue Sox, 23-8, at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex. Easley had come up short in Game 1, falling to the Rio Grande Valley Recon (TX), 8-3.
Easley jumped ahead by a 5-0 margin over the Blue Sox after one inning, but a cluster of walks and two hit batters gave DBI life along with a 7-5 lead. Easley used five hits and four walks to fuel their own outburst in the second inning and also post seven runs.
That was just an appetizer for the third inning, when Easley brought across 11 runs to finish the game off via the run rule. Everyone was able to head to lunch in good spirits; the team has aspirations for a run through the bracket and would have been in stressful territory with a 0-2 record.
"We just decided we wanted to win (Game 2), and we competed and played harder than we did the first game," said Landon Smith, who had three hits, scored three runs and stole three bases in the victory. "The early (start time) was maybe part of the problem. I breathe easy and say to myself, 'I'm going to get a hit' when I'm batting."
It sounds funny to point at a pitching performance when breaking down a 15-run victory, but Easley definitely got a lift fro Gavin Odom, who came in relief in the second inning and got two big outs. He was very effective in the third inning as well, getting a grounder back to the mound and a strikeout to keep DBI at bay.
"I tell myself, don't think when you're pitching ... just let go of the ball and throw it," Odom said. "I actually felt good after the first game because I had two hits, and the out I had was a line drive to third. I just hope we go to the championship."
Brannon Kirkpatrick had two hits and four RBI for Easley. Grant Walendzik added three runs and three RBI. The Blue Sox got two runs from Hayden Parker, and two hits and a RBI from Isaac Calderon.
"We figured these first two games would be something of a warm-up. Game 1, we came out on the wrong side of the stick, but that's baseball," said Easley coach Brandon Sing, whose team is wrapping up their summer season with this tournament. "Gavin was a big plus for us, especially coming in after losing the first game. For us to score as many runs as we did, that shows we weren't going to pout about that first game.
"They were very excited to make this trip, even if it was about 10 hours of driving. I told them, that's not as far as some people are coming."
On a relatively cool day in Omaha, hometown Millard Elite 10u seemed calm, cool and collected in its opening contest of the 2018 Omaha SlumpBuster. Thursday morning at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex, Millard jumped out the gate with a 22-0 victory over the Thunder Jets.
“I preach to them all the time about maintaining focus and playing Elite baseball,” said head coach Chris Burke. “They’ve all earned the right to wear the Elite name on their uniforms, and it’s just a matter of going out and playing the way that we practice.”
Millard wasted no time in the top of the first inning, scoring two runs, the first off an RBI from Jaxson Appuhn. Appuhn would finish perfect at the plate, racking up two singles, a double, three stolen bases and four RBI.
“I just try to stay focused and wait for my pitch,” said Appuhn. “When I did get my pitch or something down the middle, I was able to take advantage and keep the offense going.”
Lead in hand, Millard Elite and starting pitcher Brady Danze trotted out to the field looking for a quick inning. The bottom of the first ultimately gave Danze and his defense the most trouble after a couple of walks gave the Jets a duo of baserunners. With no panic in their demeanor, however, Danze delivered a strikeout while the infield picked up a couple of routine putouts to end the inning unscathed.
“The fastball is my favorite pitch,” said Danze. “When I get that thing working, I know I can blow it by people.”
When Danze returned to the bump in the bottom of the second inning, now with a three-run lead, his fastball started to come around. A nearly perfect 10-pitch inning earned Danze three of his four strikeouts on the afternoon.
Danze’s confidence carried over a the top of the third inning that saw Millard send 15 boys to the plate and score 10 runs to stretch the lead, 13-0.
“I try to challenge these boys all the time,” said Burke. “I told these boys after the second inning that I thought we should be in front by more than just three runs. Sure enough, they came back and exploded in the third and fourth innings.”
The top of the fourth frame mirrored much of the third. Nine more runs and the same 15 at-bats later, Millard was now well out of reach, leading 22-0. Each of 11 Elite batters in the lineup reached at least first base safely by the end of the game.
Brady Hylok took the reins from Danze in the third inning and picked up right where the young right-handed left off. In his two innings of work, Hylok struck out four and walked only one batter.
“We won big in this matchup but we have to stay focused going forward,” said Appuhn. “We know exactly what we need to do to win games, it’s just a matter of having each other’s backs, staying up in the dugout and having fun.”
Fresh off a victory over a Colorado-based team, Millard will continue its march through pool play with another game Thursday afternoon against the KC Crusaders out of Missouri.
“That’s the beauty of this tournament,” said Burke. “We play so many games against the same swath of teams in a five-hour radius. It’s a refreshing break and better for our boys to see such good competition from around the country.”
Your trip to the 2018 Omaha SlumpBuster will be packed with events and energy, and there’s no other setting more electric than Festival Night, set for Thursday, June 14 from 5-9 p.m. at the Council Bluffs Sports Complex (2900 Richard Downing Avenue, Council Bluffs, IA 51501).
No doubt, there will be thousands of players, parents and coaches swarming the complex – our Festival Night comes strong with a show from noted YouTube comedian Domingo Ayala, an extensive Vendor Row, Inflatable Games for kids and other thrills: