The best of the best stormed the field on Championship Sunday at the TC SlumpBuster in Omaha, and it was exciting to say the least.
In the 12u division of the TCSB Invite, the StL Force faced the Millard United Elite in a best-of-3 championship series. Force won the first game in smooth fashion, 10-2, and were feeling confident heading into Game 2. However, after losing to Millard once in pool play a few days prior, Force knew they couldn’t take it easy against them. Ultimately, Force won a close 4-2 battle in Game 2 to be crowned champions.
“They’re a great team. We knew coming into this tournament that any team could win at any time. It’s never fun to lose but sometimes it’s worth it, it makes the boys turn it on and not take it for granted,” said Force head coach Sal McGhee. “In pool play we get to play a lot of other players in different positions and one thing we focus on is developmental strategies, and then we go hard once bracket play starts.”
Force went to work quickly with the sticks in the first inning. They got runners on board and used their speed to get into scoring position. Then, Brysen Nepute pushed a run across with his RBI single to put his team on the board, 1-0. The score stayed that way for the next few innings.
In the fourth, Nepute stepped up once again with a leadoff double and stole third base on the next pitch. The Force roster followed that up with a walk and four clutch consecutive singles that put them ahead 4-0. Cooper Thompson, Mike Teason and Caleb Heck each recorded an RBI in the inning.
Millard answered in the bottom half of the inning by stringing together a few hits, but Force’s exceptional defense only allowed one run to cross the plate.
Catcher Mike Teason had the golden arm; he caught multiple Millard runners trying to steal. In addition, outfielders Nepute and Tommy Gibbar each made outstanding catches that kept Millard off the scoreboard.
“We’re aggressive. I tell the boys every time we hit the field that we’re there to get better. I want to see these guys down in Omaha one day on TV,” said McGhee.
Heading into the final frame, Force had a commanding 4-1 lead but Millard didn’t go down without a fight. They managed to load the bases and score a run before Force called in their lefty ace, Nepute, to close it out.
Nepute was a triple threat; he held the fort down in centerfield before coming in for the save in which he struck out two batters to seal the championship. He was also 2-3 at the dish with an RBI.
“I knew I could do it because I did it yesterday. My teammates told me I could do it too, when I came to the mound that last inning. It feels great!” said Nepute.
The Force went 6-2 overall on the weekend with their only losses coming in pool play. Collectively, they had 10 hits in the final game, and Heck created the most havoc on the base paths with three steals. Heck also delivered two hits and a RBI.
“It felt good to win. I just like to be with my friends and have fun,” said Heck.
The entire Force squad was all smiles getting ready to make the trek back home to St. Louis with memories from the CWS and a SlumpBuster championship trophy in hand.
“It was a great tournament. We look forward to it all year long. Omaha was good to us!” said McGhee.