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.”