By Craig Buchanan
COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA – If you watch Head Coach Duke Zielinski and his NINES Baseball Academy, you can see that they take in every moment. They appreciate the competition. They appreciate the experience and seeing all the different teams. Every game and every pitch is a memory to be cherished for a club that has been making plenty of memories on the baseball diamond out in Omaha.
“Our kids are having the time of their life; it’s a great experience,” Zielinski said. “Baseball is one thing, but the experience of being around kids from all over the country playing. We take pictures with every team. It’s all about the experience.”
The fourth-seeded NINES Baseball Academy advanced to the semifinals of the 13u D1 Platinum bracket with a thoroughly impressive 16-2 victory over the fifth-seeded West Fargo Rattlers in the quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon. It marked the sixth time in seven games out in Omaha that the NINES have put up at least 12 runs.
“The guys are seeing the ball well, but we’ve still got a long ways to go,” said Zielinski.
The NINES struck early, and they struck often. After scoring one in the bottom of the first inning, the NINES extended the lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the second behind an rbi triple from Sebastian Joseph followed by a two-run home run from Brodie Abbott to straight away center field. The dynamic duo wasn’t done there, driving in another three runs in the bottom of the third inning, part of a nine-run inning for the NINES, and one more for good measure in the bottom of the fourth inning as the team was in complete control.
“That’s why they hit number one and number two,” Zielinski said. “They are dynamic and we want to get them the most at bats.”
The win sets up a highly anticipated semifinal matchup against a familiar foe in the top-seeded Golden Spikes Shockers, also hailing from California.
“They are from our neck of the woods,” Zielinski said excitedly about the matchup against the Golden Spikes. “We’ve played them at home before and have had a lot of great games against them. We have a lot of respect for them, and it will be a fun match.”
By Kyle Koso
COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA – Play right field the right way, and you’ll likely avoid being on the wrong side of the scoreline.
The 14u Northstar Navy benefited from two critical defensive plays from the position on Saturday during D1 championship bracket action at the 2023 SlumpBuster, creating the room needed to pull off a 4-2 comeback win over Millard Elite-Williams (NE) at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex. Northstar, out of Shakopee, MN, is the highest seeded team left in the bracket at No. 2 and will look to continue its run Sunday at 9 a.m. vs. the No. 6-seeded Dallas Tigers-Killian.
Saturday, Northstar got a righteous right field play from Isaac Feller in the top of the fifth inning as he threw out a baserunner at first, canceling out the single and keeping a run off the scoreboard as Millard claimed a 2-0 lead. And in the top of the sixth, Jack Van Gemert made a diving catch with two outs that again kept the scoreboard clean.
The defensive heroics allow Northstar to cobble together an offensive response. With one out in the fifth, Brody Nelson hit a two-run double to tie the game at 2-all, and in the sixth, Feller tripled in a run and then scored on a wild pitch for the final margin.
“I’m super happy with the guys. We’ve made one or two errors total, the whole tournament, and they’ve been amazing in the field,” said Northstar coach Zach Jakubowsky. “They’ve kept it simple haven’t tried to do too much, and Jack’s catch probably saved two runs and turned the momentum in our favor.
Millard Elite broke ahead early – a single from Jamison Saathoff drove in Ty Longlee in the fourth, and Carson Burke singled in Lucas Heller in the fifth.
“The boys love to swing the bat – scored 50 runs in pool play and started Saturday with nine,” added Jakubowsky. “We were a little tense early and the Millard pitcher (Alex Golnik) was easily the best arm we’ve faced. They found their approach, and we slowed them down a bit in the third, fourth inning, and that seemed to help a lot.”
“My approach was to look fastball the first two pitches. With two strikes, I had to change my approach a bit, but I saw something up and took it with me,” said Feller, whose triple to centerfield just kept on carrying over the head of the fielder. “We were a little down, but we battle, and we had faith. Our pitchers are good, and I trust them.”
Nelson had struck out in the third inning, but carried no negative feelings into his big at-bat in the fifth.
“Your mind is obviously racing in a situation like that, so I stepped out of the box, closed my eyes, took a breath and tried to visualize what I wanted to do,” said Nelson, who also pitched 2 2/3 innings of stellar relief, allowing one hit and two walks. “When I saw the pitch come in, I had been early before so I tried to push it the opposite field and put it in the gap.
“Alex pitched great for us, and for me, the adrenaline coming into a big situation gets my heart pumping. I tried to pound the zone; I know I have a great defense behind me. If I throw strikes and do my part, my team will do their part.”
Gideon Novotny reached base three times for Millard Elite; Saathoff had two hits.
In the other 14u D1 semifinal, the No. 13-seed 4SA Gold (out of Omaha) will play the Delmarva Aces (Ocean City, Maryland), seeded eighth and the team that beat the top-seeded Winter Park Diamond Dogs, 5-4, on Saturday.
By Adam Burns
LA VISTA, Neb. — Nearly 70 games into the summer season, the Gladiators out of Beaumont, Texas have grown familiar with this scenario.
Facing another 2-0 pool opponent with the same run differential (14), the Gladiators needed to continue its momentum. With seeding implications on the line, the Gladiators, just in time ahead of reseeding and bracket play, defeated Legacy Baseball of California 9-8 ahead of reseeding on Friday afternoon at the La Vista Sports Complex.
“We definitely responded,” Gladiators coach Derek Hill said. “We preach pedal to the medal. When we take a licking, we keep on ticking. It’s our motto.”
It’s simply just what they do. And what they have been doing, considering the Gladiators just notched their 47th victory of the summer.
“It’s a great experience,” Hill said. “We’ve scored a lot of runs. Today we got down early 6-0, but these guys all season have responded well to adversity. They overcome it.”
After Legacy opened the game with a 6-run top of the first, the Gladiators punched back with a four-run bottom of the first. With two outs, Carson Johnson and Ricky Martinez both drove in a run with singles.
“We’ve been laying on that gas pedal pretty heavy lately,” Mason Istre said. “The bats have been hot and we’ve been doing great overall. If we can keep it up, we have a good shot at going far.”
William Heinz then came up big with a 2-run shot to right center field to knot the score at 6-6 in the second inning. Then, in the third, Martinez drove in another run before Legacy balked in a run and allowed another run to cross the plate via an error to make it 9-6.
Legacy then cut the advantage to 9-8 with an RBI double and a fielder’s choice in the fourth, but that was as close Legacy could get before the game concluded due to time limit.
“We pulled away but we kept ticking at the end,” Istre said.
The Gladiators advanced to 4-1 on the week and will take on Nines Baseball Academy at 10:15 a.m. Saturday in the D1 Platinum Championship Bracket.
By Kyle Koso
COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA – Turns out, when all the coaches and parents and boring old people talk about never giving up, they might actually be onto something.
After falling behind 10-0 on Friday in 14u action at the 2023 SlumpBuster, the Oklahoma Rage put up an entry in the miracle comeback category, registering nine runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to notch a 11-10 victory over the Waco Warriors. The Rage will play in the 14u D2 championship bracket as the No. 27 seed and face the 406 Flyers on Saturday morning.
A shower of errors and stolen bases surrendered to the benefit of the Warriors in the first inning had the Rage down, 7-0, and it was a double-digit debacle until the bottom of the fourth when four walks and a hit batter got the Rage on the board, trailing 10-2. In the end, the Warriors could not get their relief pitching to settle in, as the Rage used five walks, two hit batters, two sacrifice flies and two wild pitches to bring in the nine runs in that last frame.
The game-winner came off the bat of Miles Dickinson, a single, his second hit of the day to go with two RBI.
“I knew I had to get up there and do my job,” Dickinson said. “I was just trying to find barrel with ball. I knew we had to come back and battle.”
“You have to trust the team and know we can get the bats rolling at the end,” said Daelon Rice, who walked three times and singled, scoring three runs. “This helps us for tomorrow in the bracket, to give us some confidence and win this thing.”
“The thing I’m really focused on is that we fight to the end. These kids know baseball, but it’s the skills that’ll take them further in life as far as not giving up,” said Rage coach Chad VonTungeln. “Fighting together is the key – the guy who had the game-winning hit also had three errors. He came back, got it done, that’s baseball. We’re in a good spot with our pitching, we’re well-stocked and ready to go.”
For the Warriors, Jimmy White scored twice and drove in a run, and Colton Omo had two hits and two RBI.
By Adam Burns
LA VISTA, Neb. — Decked in his hot pink jersey with flowers, black pants and long pink socks, Alexis Monasterio grinned ear to ear.
All he could do was smile. And laugh. And smile some more.
No, it wasn’t because of the attire his 13U OTB Flamingos wears with pride. Rather, Monasterio was thrilled with the fact that he had just mashed his second homer of the first session of the Omaha SlumpBuster.
“It felt really good,” said Monasterio, a man of a little words. He is, however, a man of great power with a bat in his hands.
Clinging to a two-run lead, Monasterio drilled a 2-0 pitch well over the left-field fence for a 3-run home run in the sixth inning, which ultimately provided the final tallies for the Flamingos in an 11-6 victory over Elite Baseball Friday morning at the La Vista Sports Complex.
“I wanted to drive in the runs so we could win the game,” Monasterio said of his mindset.
As soon as Monasterio hit it, he knew he had his third on the summer season and promptly skipped and provided a bat flip to the delight of his teammates. His coach also knew it was gone immediately.
“No,” coach Drew Shelton said when asked if there was ever any doubt in Monasterio’s homer. “No, I think I said ‘see ya’ before he even swung, so yeah, it was gone. No doubt in my mind.”
Elite Baseball, based out of Illinois, put immediate pressure on the Flamingos with two runs in the first, but the Oklahoma squad responded with a 6-spot in the second inning, which included a Monasterio RBI single to center field, Bryson Francis plating two on an error and a pair of RBI singles.
“I told the guys to find a little energy in that inning and they found it,” coach Shelton said.
Elite Baseball knotted the score at 6-all with a 3-run fifth, but the Flamingos plated five in the sixth, including Monasterio’s game-changing blast.
The Flamingos (3-2), first-time SlumpBuster participants which also beat Utah Hustle 8-4 earlier in the day, return to action Saturday at 10:15 a.m. against Millard United in D1 Gold Championship Bracket play.
“Pitching has to be there tomorrow,” coach Shelton said. “We’ve had too many walks, especially with limited arms right now.”
“We take the mindset of playing anyone, anytime and anywhere,” he added. “We see a lot of good teams in Oklahoma, Texas, so it’s great to come up here and play different teams from Southern California and Utah—guys we wouldn’t see anywhere else.”