by Adam Burns
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Here comes the St. Louis Force. Again.
The Force registered an 8-0 victory over Fastball Elite Saturday on Field 9 at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex to advance to Championship Sunday of the Omaha SlumpBuster 13u Division I Invite Championships, setting up a chance for the Force to capture a second SlumpBuster title in as many seasons.
The win kept the Force undefeated on the week at 6-0 and pushed it into Sunday’s best-of-three championship series against the Vegas Vipers, who registered three wins Saturday to emerge out of the losers’ bracket. The Force claimed the 12U tourney last summer.
“It feels great. We're playing well,” Force coach Sal McGhee said. “There's some good competition here and that team we just played was really good. It's fun baseball.”
Bryson Nepute dazzled for the Force, tossing a two-hit complete-game shutout. The left-hander struck out 10 batters.
“I felt pretty good. My pitches were working and my catcher was framing it well,” said Nepute, who used a fastball-curve combination to fluster Fastball Elite.
“He's a workhorse. He goes out there and gives us his all,” McGhee said. “He hits a lot of spots and he does a good job of mixing speeds.”
The Force grabbed a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first, courtesy of a Nazzan Zanetello two-run single.
Fastball Elite starter Jared Rodriguez, who struck out seven across five innings, quieted the Force bats as he settled in for three straight scoreless innings of work. But the Force bats picked back up in the later innings, plating one run in the fifth and five more in the sixth to pull away.
In the game-changing sixth, Jake McGhee laid down a successful safety squeeze bunt to score Bret Yager, who tripled to lead off the inning. Then, Mike Teason roped a two-run home run over the left field fence to give the Force a seven-run advantage.
Teason collected two hits and drove in a pair to lead the Force, while Jordan Green had two hits for Fastball Elite.
Nepute’s complete-game effort allows McGhee to have plenty of pitching options for Championship Sunday.
“We just like to play baseball and this tournament is set up well for us,” McGhee said. “We've got nine pitchers so we're pretty deep in pitching.”
Enough to win another SlumpBuster title? The Force sure thinks so. The key?
“Rest tonight,” Nepute said. “Ice. Hit the hot tub, probably. And get ready for tomorrow.”