For the first time in six months, baseball players from Pahrump took the field in live competition, and the results were mostly encouraging.
The Trojans Gold squad went to Rotary Park in Bullhead City, Arizona for the Rockin’ on the River Tournament, reaching the championship game in their division before falling 8-5 Sunday to the Las Vegas Aces, a team made up mostly of players who attend Arbor View and Centennial high schools.
Trojans Gold opened the tournament with two victories Saturday against two very different opponents.
“The first game was a bit of a letdown,” coach Brian Hayes said. “We faced a younger team and it was one of those games when we got all of our bench in during the first two innings. We were kind of hoping that’s not what the tournament was going to be like, but it was a good first game. Everybody got to play and some guys got a breather since we were playing two games back to back.”
Hayes said Fidel Betancourt pitched really well in the first game the coaches have seen him pitch that wasn’t a scrimmage and noted that Kyle McDaniel had 6 hits and drove in 6 runs during Saturday’s games.
“James Metscher had a good weekend for us, (Zach) Cuellar had a couple of hits in the first game, Coby Tillery’s coming around hitting the ball, Fidel’s doing a good job getting on base for us,” Hayes said of players who looked good Saturday. “I think we’re doing pretty well offensively.”
McDaniel answered a big question the coaches had when he came on in relief of Jake Riding against the Mohave Thunderbirds with one out and a runner on first and Trojans Gold nursing a 5-4 lead in the top of the fifth of Sunday’s first game. McDaniel struck out four of the five batters he faced, Pahrump added insurance runs in its half of the fifth — one on an RBI double by McDaniel — and Trojans Gold punched their ticket to the tournament final with a 7-4 win.
“We’re looking at him as probably being our closer,” Hayes said of McDaniel. “We don’t really know who we’re going to use in that role, and we look at him as a guy who can come in and throw strikes, has enough velocity, has a couple of pitches he can throw. … He has that mentality that he can do that, so we decided to use him in that role today, and he might have solved that issue for us.”
McDaniel plays a strong shortstop, known for his arm on plays deep in the hole, but moving Betancourt to that position when McDaniel heads to the mound is just fine with Hayes.
“With Fidel, we’re not losing much defensively putting him at shortstop,” he said of Betancourt, who has shown himself to be a slick fielder during Little League tournament games.
McDaniel scored Trojan Gold’s opening run by walking, stealing second and third — sliding under a tag when the ball beat him to second — and then reaching home when Sterling Oshiro, who also walked, stayed in a rundown long enough for McDaniel to score. A two-out rally in the second featured an error on what would have been the third out, an infield single and three wild pitches.
Metscher leading off the fifth by getting hit by a pitch helped get insurance runs after McDaniel, who drove in Metscher with a double, came on in relief.
In the title game, Cuellar received very little help from his friends during a disastrous 5-run second inning for the Aces. A long-shot attempt at tagging a runner moving to third on an infield grounder and a misplayed foul pop outside of first combined with two hit batters and a wild pickoff throw to help the Aces take a 5-0 lead, chasing Cuellar.
“We had probably three plays in that inning that could have gotten him out of that,” Hayes said.
The lead was 8-0 and Hayes was questioning his team’s approach when Trojans Gold finally got something going in the fifth inning.
Ryan Braithwaite singled and Dallton Norland walked to start the inning, and with two outs the rally got going. McDaniel walked to load the bases, Oshiro followed with an RBI singled and Jalen Denton followed with a double to plate 2 runs. Denton stole third and scored on an infield single by Tillery, and suddenly it was 8-5.
But the tournament had a time limit for each game, and with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, the game was called and the Aces took home the trophy.
“It’s nice to have one of those games where we don’t reach our goals so they can see what happens when we don’t,” Hayes said. “We didn’t take care of the baseball, and that’s why they beat us. Wins are unimportant right now. It’s kind of developing and trying to get better.
“We don’t run out of time, who knows what happens? It looked like they didn’t have much pitching after that one guy got tossed.” The Aces’ starting pitcher was ejected for cursing at the umpire.
Hayes hopes to play two tournaments each month during the fall and expects to be back in Bullhead City on Oct. 4-5.
“I think we’re going to try and bring both of our teams from here on out,” he said. “The kids can do things they haven’t been able to do at home, and we can get that team camaraderie back.”
The tournament served its purpose, and Hayes said the fourth game didn’t undo the good things he saw from the first three.
“Our kids are buying into what we’re trying to preach, and the more that we play and the more they understand what we’re trying to do,” he said. “I think ultimately it’s going to lead to us having success at the high school level.”