By Kyle Koso
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa – While temperatures spiked up and didn’t much relent at the 2022 SlumpBuster, you could have taken the pulse of the Canes Arizona 13u Gold squad and not found cooler customers out of the hundreds of other teams at the event.
First, the Canes (from Scottsdale) fought through various moments of stress and strain in the DI Gold semifinals, holding off Hawks 13’s by a 5-4 margin in extra innings. And as an encore, the Canes prevailed in a good, old-fashioned defensive nail-biter, moving past the Placentia (CA) Mustangs in the title game, 3-2.
Braden Harmon threw five standout innings for the Canes in the championship matchup, allowing one first-inning run and notching four strikeouts, with one huge K ending the third inning with the bases loaded. Reliever Hawk Licari gave up a run in the sixth to make it 3-2 and saw the Mustangs load the bases in the seventh on a hit and two walks.
But he got the Mustangs to hit an easy-to-handle grounder to shortstop; with the out made a second base, the Canes could celebrate even if the heat might have sapped a few inches off their vertical jumps.
“It’s a great one to win, and anytime you win your last game everything feels good, whatever bracket it is,” said Canes coach Greg Halvorson. “The kids played great. You control what you can – these kids really play hard and grind, and they’ve been together a long time. They know how to win at the end of the game, and that’s what they did here in these last two.
“The kids always make it interesting, but (late-inning drama) is part of the game. They played hard, we played hard, and we were able to get it done.”
Christian Rojas walked to lead off the game for the Mustangs; he scored on a groundout by Jaxson Lang. The Canes responded with singles by Harmon and Sean Campbell and a two-run double from Jacoby Noble. Campbell came through with a triple to lead off the third, and he came home on a groundout by Chris Sinacori.
Campbell added a double with one out in the fifth, but he was stranded when a line drive from Noble was tracked down by the Mustangs defense.
“I was very confident up at the plate and usually a pretty good hitter,” Campbell said. “I started the day off not that good, but it came around and we were able to win the championship. We were pretty positive – Hawk is a very good pitcher and did a great job in the end.”
Harmon allowed just four hits and moved through his assignment with confidence. The Canes defense only had a couple of errors, and the one that came in the fifth was solved when Harmon got the final out of the frame on a pop fly to first base.
“As soon as I got in my comfort zone, I started to feel a bit better about everything,” Harmon said. “I was able to settle down. This was exciting at the end and great to come out on top. We were hoping for some more runs, but we know we have good pitching, guys who will pump strikes and finish it strong.”