It takes exactly nine players to field an official baseball team, and after an injury in Slammers Armour’s first game of the SlumpBuster, nine equaled the total number of players on head coach Mike Angelini’s roster.
Despite the absence of depth on the Slammers bench, the Colorado natives did not drop a game during pool play. They made quick work of the PTC Aces, 15-1, in the opening round of bracket play and proceeded to cruise past Premier Baseball Futures, 6-0, to earn a spot in the 13u D1 semifinals.
“I think in a weird way, only having nine players motivated these guys,” said Angelini. “These nine have pulled themselves together and really started to believe in each other.”
Slammers started the quarterfinal matchup with two consecutive base hits. Leadoff hitter Eze Rojas utilized his exceptional speed to get from first to third on a Michael Casillas single and then scored the go-ahead run a batter later on a passed ball.
“I’ve never really seen pitching like (Premier) had before,” said Rojas. “It took a couple of adjustments to be able to time my hitting and figure out how aggressive I could be on the bases.”
Casillas, fresh off one of two singles he would deliver for Slammers on the day, took to the hill for the first five innings of the contest. Dominance would be an understatement as Casillas would only surrender four hits, did not give up a walk and struck out 10.
“I didn’t feel like today was going to be a special day,” explained Casillas. “I really have to credit my dad, who helped through the game plan, and my catcher, who was excellent back there today.”
“He didn’t miss with his off-speed,” said Angelini. “When he’s hitting with his off-speed, his fastball becomes unhittable.”
Premier Baseball did its best to hold serve, though. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that Slammers tacked on three more runs to stretch the lead, 4-0.
“I pulled the team together and challenged them to swing the sticks,” Angelini said. “I told them Michael was pitching a gem of a game and it was their time to go out and support his effort. To their credit, they all responded exactly the way I was hoping.”
Two more runs coming across in the top of the sixth inning allowed Angelini to send Brooks Rodarte to the mound to close out the game. Though Rodarte didn’t have the number of innings to equal Casillas’ double-digit strikeouts, he did tally four of his own and even let the Slammers defense make a play or two.
“We always have to be ready,” said Rojas. “No matter who is pitching, I think we were all prepared to make a play”
Rodarte’s final strikeout not only solidified a tidy 6-0 win over an impressive Texas-based team but also vaulted Slammers into the semifinals of the 13u Division I Bracket.
“We’ve never won this thing before,” said Casillas. “It would be an honor and I think a giant accomplishment to come out here and win a title against all these great teams.”
Slammers’ semifinal matchup is slated for 11:15 a.m. on Saturday morning. They’ll face the Texas Oilers, who have also managed the 2018 SlumpBuster without a loss thus far.
“It’s why we come here year after year,” said Angelini. “We welcome the competition and this tournament brings everyone to Omaha. It’s a great time of year and I hope we can end our week on a high note.”