After losing in the title game of their previous tournament in Bullhead City, Arizona, the Trojans Gold baseball club was determined to show the coaches they were not satisfied just by reaching the final.
“I just came here to win after coming in second place last tournament,” pitcher/shortstop Fidel Betancourt said. “I wanted to come here and win.”
That attitude was obvious as the Trojans topped the Vegas Raptors 5-0 in the championship game of the Pink the Park Tournament on Sunday at Rotary Park.
Starting pitchers Zack Cuellar, Jalen Denton, Fidel Betancourt and Kyle McDaniel combined to allow one run over four games, and the Trojans turned in several sparkling defensive plays in a 4-0 weekend.
“We went through four games and threw four pitchers,” Trojans coach Drew Middleton said. “We didn’t throw a single reliever the entire tournament. That is insane to do.”
There was the occasional dicey situation. In Sunday’s first game, Arizona’s T-Birds White opened the first inning with two rockets off of Betancourt to put runners at second and third with nobody out.
At least one person wasn’t worried.
“Not to be cocky or anything, but when I saw second and third I knew they weren’t going to score,” Betancourt said. “I knew what they were about last time I pitched them,” which was two weeks earlier.
Betancourt struck out the next two batters and then got some help from Scott Hirschi, who made a phenomenal running catch in short right field to save two runs.
“He gets closer and closer, and I was like, all right, maybe … and the next thing you know he’s catching the ball and lying on the ground,” Middleton said. “There’s no way he just caught that. Scotty played really well for us this weekend.”
Betancourt allowed 2 singles the rest of the way, and there was just enough offense for a 5-1 win that sent the Trojans into their second consecutive championship game.
Just enough meant 2 runs on a hit, 2 walks and 2 hit batters in the first, a run on a walk, a fielder’s choice and a Cuellar double in the third, and a run in the fifth when James Metscher was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
“In our first three games, we had five hard-hit balls,” Middleton said. “We pushed across runs and put pressure on the defense, but the first three games we didn’t hit the ball too well. That championship game, our bats came alive.”
That they did, as the Raptors quickly discovered. Denton led off the second with a triple to left-center, and Sterling Oshiro followed with a booming double to left. One out later, Cuellar singled home Denton, and Cuellar later scored on a walk to Betancourt for a 3-0 lead.
An inning later, the Trojans showed a knack for picking each other up. Denton doubled, but this time Oshiro lined out softly to short. Coby Tillery, who had struck out in the middle of the previous rally, came through this time with a single to left to score Denton and then scored on a single by Cuellar.
If Hirschi made the play of the first game Sunday, Metscher turned in the play of the game in the second, racing toward his left to make a crazy diving, rolling catch in right field that left both benches stunned. That ended the Raptors’ fifth inning, and because of an angry confrontation in the bottom of the inning after McDaniel wound up on second after a botched infield pop-up, the game was called and the Trojans had a 5-0 win.
McDaniel’s path to a shutout was not an easy one. He loaded the bases in the second on a single, hit batter and a walk but got out of it in part thanks to a Raptors hitter running into the ball outside of the batter’s box, then a leadoff double an inning later was erased by a perfectly executed rundown followed by a pickoff of a runner who left way too early in an attempt to steal third.
But, like the defense, McDaniel kept getting better.
“I like just settling in and getting comfortable, and as the game went on my stuff started to get stronger,” McDaniel said. “My curveball was working more, my fastball was starting to get more movement at the end, and I was just feeling it.”
The Raptors running their mouths was something the Trojans were prepared for, although coach Brian Hayes did feel compelled to remind his team, “No chirping,” between innings at least once.
“I heard they run their mouths a little bit,” McDaniel said. “They’re going to try and chirp and get in your head. I wasn’t really surprised when they were chirping right at the beginning. I just had to try and keep my composure on the mound and ignore it.”
He did, as did his defense, as Betancourt turned a double play by stepping on second and firing to first in the fourth and made another slick play to get the first out of the fifth. Two batter later, Metscher made his incredible catch to end that inning.
“You’ve got to tip your cap to Coach Roy (Uyeno),” Middleton said. “His outfield this weekend was insane. To the players’ credit as well. Cuellar came in and made some insane plays, James made some insane plays, then you have Jalen who just covers a football field out in center. Our outfield was great, and our infield — we have four guys who could be varsity starters up the middle.
“Sterling stepped in today at first base and played great. Nothing got by him. And Ryan (Braithwaite) stepped in at third base and played great. When you give up one run in four games, defense and pitching just clicked, and we did everything well this weekend.”
Trojans Maroon win 1 of 4
While the varsity-level Trojans Gold won the Pink in the Park champion, the JV-level Maroon did not fare quite as well. But despite dropping three out of four, coach Drew Middleton said the younger players showed some positive signs in the 16U+ tournament.
“Austin Sandoval played really well in all four games,” Middleton said. “He works his butt off. Jacob Von Vargas, he’s going to be a freshman this year, and he played really well. Anything hit to him in right he made plays. He hit the ball all weekend. He was probably our most surprising guy.”
Middleton also praised Leo Finkler for walking just one batter in six innings in a 9-8 win over the Las Vegas Silverbacks in the consolation bracket before Trojans Maroon fell 12-0 to Shock Baseball of California in the consolation final.
Middleton was not concerned, noting the level of experience on the younger squad.
“They didn’t get to play a single JV game last year,” he said. “We really have 14 freshmen even though some of them are sophomores. Their first tournament, their first games, they’re going to be all right.”