By Bob Judson
OGDEN, UT — Throughout the Triple Crown 18u Fastpitch World Series game Thursday, the result was obvious and the story easily written.
The Oregon Blaze (Beaverton) would comfortably dominate by four runs. Then it got close at two runs. Surely the Blaze would win when it went to three.
But Utah Cruisers (Salt Lake City) had other plans, erasing each of those deficits, and sent the game into extra innings with a three-run bottom of the seventh, tying things up at 5.
Rules require a speed-up runner in extra innings and No. 10 hitter Kaitlyn Ventris chased that run home with a one-out double and the Blaze led 6-5. So, when first-baseman Erica Eidson came to bat with two out and Ventris on, there wasn’t much tension to the situation.
“I was really happy she hit that because I could go up there and was nice and relaxed,” Eidson said. “I didn’t have to pressure myself. I thought, ‘okay, I need get this hit. We need to get this run in.’ We already had it, so I could go up there and do whatever I wanted to do.”
Eidson had had a rather non-descript performance thus far, going 'oh for' – striking out twice, flying out and grounding out in her other plate appearances.
“You can’t think about something bad you did; you have to move on and play your best,” Eidson said. “You have to come together as a team. Everyone has to want it and you have to put in your whole effort. It was all the players. We all came in (at the top of the eighth) and said we’ve got to do it for our pitcher; we’ve got to do it for ourselves. We don’t want to lose this.”
With no pressure, and the lead run across, Eidson promptly lined a solid single, scoring Ventris, giving the Blaze a 7-5 cushion, and – as it turned out – the winning run.
The Cruisers mounted yet another comeback with a run in the bottom of eighth, but starting pitcher Abby Stansbury closed the door on a strikeout with the tying run on second to end it, and the Blaze advanced in the Mt. Peale bracket of the tournament with a harrowing 7-6 victory at 4th Street Park.
“They’re a tough team. I knew they were going to be ready to get that runner in and I really wanted to get that first out because that would make it a lot easier on our infield and me too,” Stansbury said.
Utah chased home its speed-up runner, making it 7-6 and had the tying run at second with one out when Stansbury called a team meeting in the circle to settle things down.
“I knew some of them were letting the pressure get in their heads and I needed them to get it together because I rely on them to get the outs,” Stansbury said. “I had to make sure I hit my spots and locations and make sure all my spins were routine. I had to be mentally tough.”
Stansbury got a fly out to center and then a strikeout to end it.
Oregon had scored four runs through the first three innings, and batted around twice, before Utah even went through its batting order once, and Stansbury was cruising.
She also helped herself in the batter’s box with an RBI double in the first inning and a leadoff double in the third. Stansbury walked in her next two at bats in an unusual twist of fate.
“I felt really good. I actually cracked my bat on the second (double). It was completely toast,” Stansbury said. “I had to share a bat the next two turns up, but I got walks so I really didn’t get to use it. Just be picky; knowing my pitches and what I want.”
Second baseman Rachel Powers and catcher Emmy Carver also each had two hits for the Blaze.
The Cruisers chipped away at the lead with two runs in the fifth, shrinking the gap to 4-2 on a two-run single by Alyssa McOmie, but the Blaze countered with a run in the seventh.
“I felt pretty good about the game from the beginning, especially when we were up,” Stansbury said. “When it started getting a little closer it was stressful, but I had faith in my team and in my ability that we could pull through.”
McOmie’s groundout RBI in the bottom of the seventh capped a three-run rally and sent the game to extra innings. Stansbury returned to pitch the bottom of the eighth in 90-plus degree heat and got the complete game victory, scattering 10 hits and striking out three.
“I wanted it (the complete game). Even though we’re from Oregon, honestly, when I’m pitching I don’t think about the heat; I’m really in the zone and not thinking about it,” Stansbury said.
She has a scholarship to Eastern Nazarene College as a pitcher but can play the outfield or first base when not on the rubber.
“Getting a complete game win on pitching makes me feel a lot better. I love getting the doubles; but I feel like getting a complete game win… the happiness lasts longer than getting a hit.”
Left-hander Chaytlyn Dodge pitched the entire game for the Cruisers, allowing 12 hits, striking out seven and walking five. First baseman Izzy Mabey had two hits and scored twice for Utah, while second baseman Jadelyn Hooper rapped a pair of hits, including a double.