Journey Journal (Chapter 2) -- How recruiting looks from the student-athlete's view
This is the second entry from the “Journey Journal” of Sophia Taliaferro, a high school junior in Virginia who first hit the Triple Crown Sports radar in June 2022 while taking part in multiple pre-event camps before the Colorado 4th of July softball tournament. The idea was sparked to hear straight from a student-athlete’s perspective about not just college recruiting, but how past experiences and current events influence the timeless question – what’s the future going to look like?
Falling out of love with your sport is something many athletes face; I’ve been there myself. Here I want to talk about events that led to my decision to quit softball, and how I came back.
At age 10, I decided I wanted to play softball in college. I wrote out my goal on a piece of paper and stuck it on the fridge. I believed softball would be a constant in my life. That year I had to leave the team that helped me discover my passion for the game as my parents and I decided that to pursue my dream, I had to move to a more competitive organization. I was heartbroken about having to leave behind my best friends, but excited to be moving forward to bigger things.
My 11u team was my first experience in having a negative coach. My coach promised that their experience along with the reputation of the organization would guarantee me a career in college softball. I had high expectations for the season, but the quality of coaching simply didn’t hold up. My coach turned out to be extremely degrading and mentally abusive. I have one distinct memory from that season that happened when my new 11u team had been playing the 10u season team I had just left.
I was behind the plate that game – and I had just failed to block a ball from my pitcher and a run scored. My coach called time and marched out of the dugout towards me, already accusing me through body language. I was cussed out in front of all my former teammates and their parents sitting behind the fence. I had been publicly humiliated for a single mistake. Many of my former teammate's parents approached my coach after the game to defend me. My coach apologized to me and my parents, but it never really got better. He only liked me when I was afraid of him, so when I decided not to be afraid anymore there was nothing left.
Needless to say, I found myself on another new team the next year. Fast forward to age 14, the travel team I had been on had fallen apart and I was forced to find another new team. A coach that I had known for a while reached out to me and asked me to join their team. The team would play at the highest travel level, and it would be my first year going to the big travel tournaments. The coach won me over by complimenting my skills and selling the team.
What I thought would be my forever travel team turned out to be one of the worst experiences of my life. The coach had obvious favorite players that were made blameless in all situations. After losses, we would receive 30-minute lectures where players were called out by name for what they did wrong. The coach would throw the schools we were emailing in our faces and tell us we would never be good enough to play there with our performance. If a team member was struggling, the culture the coach had built ostracized them. If you performed, you were liked. I watched girls who had been confident, passionate players on that team suffer with severe performance anxiety and self-doubt. It was at this point in my life that softball felt more like a task instead of a game. I couldn’t find any adult that I could trust. The next couple of years went on about the same as I slowly shut down. I dreaded practices, and every second I was on a field I wanted to be someplace else.
So, I stopped. I took a three-month break and I wasn’t sure I was ever coming back. I played field hockey, hung out with friends from school, slept a lot and did homework. My parents would talk to me once in a while to try and see where I was and understand where I was coming from, but I was too burnt out to even talk about it.
One day my dad told me I needed to try again. Get up, get your bag, let's go practice – so I did. It made me angry, but at the same time I figured it was time to give it a try. I needed to see if I could find that passion again before I walked away for good. My dad was coaching a rec team of 12u girls and asked me to help run some practices. Working with them reminded me of my early days playing and helped me realize that I missed it.
Ultimately, I was able to find a team and a coach who really cares about me as a person and a player. It’s hard to put trust in coaches who screw you over, and it made me lose trust in the game. But my family didn’t give up on me, I didn’t give up for long, and now I’m back to stay.
Name: Taylor Cox
Job title: College Coach Coordinator
Hometown: Loveland, CO
Family: I was born in Wichita, KS and moved to Colorado when I was 5 years old so I consider Loveland my hometown. After college I moved to Denver for 10 years and recently moved to Greeley in January. I am 31 years old, a Cancer, love softball, the Kansas Jayhawks and enjoy good food and good company! In 2011 I met my fiance, Shawn, and we welcomed our son, Kellen, in November 2015. We got engaged at my 90's themed 30th birthday party last year and will be getting married in July of 2023. I was raised by my mom, Tamara and am the youngest of 3. I have one sister and one brother both older; Ashtin (36) and Chad (33). We are all super close and I consider them all my best friends! We are all big sports fans and enjoy spending time together watching and playing sports, board games, traveling and more.
College attended: Colorado State University Global, graduated 2018.
Sports background: I started playing competitive fastpitch at age of 7 for the Loveland Rage and went on to play for 12 years. I ended my fastpitch career playing for Comets-Gold (Sakamoto) before going off to Bradley University where I took on the role of starting shortstop. During my freshman year I broke the walk record and won the team’s offensive MVP. After two years and a few injuries, I decided to end my career and return home. I now play slowpitch softball competitively and get to share the field with my sister.
Hobbies: I spend most of my weekends hanging out with my family – I love spending time with my son and playing board games and watching movies together. Otherwise, most of my weekends are consumed with softball. During the offseason I like to be creative, paint, draw, craft, etc. I hope to start traveling and taking my son to the places I loved growing up.
Favorite trip: Earlier in 2022 we were able to take our son to Oahu, HI for a family vacation. We went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, North Shore, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, ate some amazing food and made some amazing memories!
How did you become associated with Triple Crown?: I played for the Buckaroos when I was younger, and we used to come to the facility for hitting practice. My sister played for the TC Stars when she was 18 so I would come around for her games and use the facility as well. I also worked some events when I was younger and played some events growing up. I am currently a part of TC Pitchers.
What intrigues you the most about Triple Crown?: I love that you get to wake up every day and work in sports. Being a part of something that so many people are passionate about is exciting! From what I know and have learned TC is one big family and I am excited to get to be a part of it!
What follows is the first entry of the “Journey Journal” as written by Sophia Taliaferro, a high school junior in Virginia who first hit the Triple Crown Sports radar in June 2022 while taking part in multiple pre-event camps before the Colorado 4th of July softball tournament. The idea was sparked to hear straight from a student-athlete’s perspective about not just college recruiting, but how past experiences and current events influence the timeless question – what’s the future going to look like?
First and foremost, we thank Sophia for her willingness to share her story. It’s our wager that thousands of teenagers are navigating similar waters, just as how innumerable parents can remember their own highs and lows in these important years. We’ll look forward to the updates and relevant pieces of history (all relayed as Sophia sees fit) as clarity begins to shine on the road ahead.
Hi, my name is Sophia Taliaferro. I am a class of 2024 softball player looking to play Division I softball in college and have been given an opportunity to document my experiences as I go through the recruiting process. In all honesty, I was incredibly hesitant about accepting this role for a few reasons. Mainly, I am a very private person and do not enjoy sharing my personal life. However, the purpose I have been called to fulfill as a guide to the young girls who want to pursue a career in college softball won priority over my individual discomforts. I hope that as you follow my story throughout this series, you will come out with a realistic idea of what to expect when competing for a spot in a college program.
October marked the second month of my recruiting process. So far, I have been told by my travel ball coach, India Chiles, college coaches like me and want to come to watch me play this fall -- however, I have not had any direct contact. I am sure I can speak for many players when I say that I feel anxious about recruiting. Scrolling through my social media pages, I see so many girls posting about their visits and commitments to play at their dream schools. Post after post, I can’t help but question myself.
“What if I never get any offers?
“Am I even good enough to play D1?”
Thoughts like these are things that circulate in my mind daily. It can be tempting to give into these concerns and believe them. To help keep myself grounded I focus on a couple of things. My coach has repeatedly told me that she isn’t worried about me achieving my goals and that coaches are slower to recruit 2024s this year. Knowing this, I can just relax and trust the process. It also helps me to focus my energy on things that are non-softball related. When too much weight is put on how you perform as a player, it can start to feel like your worth as a person is defined by a statistic. This kind of mindset can end athletic careers and wreck mental health.
Right now, I am playing high-school field hockey and taking several AP/honors classes. I love field hockey because it allows me to experience the freedom that comes from playing a sport that I don’t have to be good at. I can have fun doing something I don’t take as seriously. My challenging academic schedule acts as a sort of opposite pressure. I have pressure put on me to be great at softball, and on the other side, I have pressure to achieve good grades. While sometimes it can get overwhelming, for the most part I enjoy putting hard work into something other than softball. Making time for other interests makes sure that softball is a part of me; I am not softball.
Though I keep myself distracted with lots of extracurricular activities, the recruiting process is always at the top of my-things-to-worry-about list. I have no idea how things will work out, but I have no choice but to let them unfold at their own pace.
by Kyle Koso
Members of the Yale Softball Academy out of Canada can be excused if they feel as though they double as a track and field squad, given all the hurdles that seem to sprout up.
Based outside of Vancouver, BC., Yale’s athletes have to navigate the region’s difficult weather, a relentless fact of life up North that that complicates game schedules, workouts and training in ways unfathomable to most USA-based programs. To jam up the works even more, Canada’s government imposed severe restrictions on gatherings during the height of COVID-19 concerns – like a soupy infield after a storm, it very much muddied the growth arc for players.
So if the blue skies and warm temperatures had Yale’s student-athletes in high spirits last weekend at the Triple Crown Las Vegas City of Lights showcase, it likely meant playing with each other meant as much as playing in front of college coaches.
Yale has been coming to Las Vegas for this event for about 10 years, subtracting the COVID snarls of 2020-21. The sense of purpose was obvious for the academy, as about 55 club teams, 250 players and 50 college coaches were on hand at Majestic Park to make connections leading to future spots on college rosters.
“We’ve had a lot of girls come down to this tournament and had scholarships come out of it. Maybe you have girls who find a JUCO, they’ve gone on to play for a D-I or D-II, and it’s always been a pretty successful thing to be at this tournament and give the girls lots of opportunities,” said Jen Schreyer, Yale Softball Academy teacher and coordinator who pitched for Simon Fraser and won an NAIA national title in 2005. “As Canadians, we play a lot less ball because of the weather circumstances. An American might play 300 games between club ball and showcase tournaments, while our season might have girls playing together 60 times.
“We’re at a bit of a disadvantage that way, so that’s why we have to train harder, and why a lot of girls look to the opportunity to be part of our program. We work on the skills as much as they can in the offseason. We have snow, lots of rain in the Pacific Northwest. We’re always looking for the billionaire to build us an indoor facility, because the one we have now is crap. It’s on cement, which is never good for the ol’ shin splints.”
Yale was founded in 2007; it’s best understood as a regular high school with a sport academy piece to it serving hockey, baseball and softball. On the typical day, students have school for two blocks in the morning, then head for the academy for two afternoon blocks. Softball players train from September to January’s offseason from travel ball, with other training on field when weather allows to go with a mix of tournaments and trips to college showcases.
“For the second half of semester, it’s three days of strength and conditioning, speed and agility, general health and PE, nutrition, then getting into the college recruiting process,” Schreyer said. “We help with the steps if they want to play at the next level. We always have to work harder. We have one NCAA team in Canada, and one NAIA team, and one JUCO. Options are limited. There are lot of girls who play, and we have to go south of the border if we want to play at a higher level.”
A large portion of the softball roster lives about an hour away from Yale and is up at 5 a.m. to make the trek to school. In a given year, six or seven live away from home on campus for a semester, and the squad recently had a player from New Brunswick (a crisp 54-hour drive) -- she was recruited at Vegas City of Lights and is now playing D-I softball.
“Being a part of this every year has really helped make (connections with multiple programs),” Schreyer added. “My job isn’t in the dugout, but to be out and talking to coaches. I quite enjoy it now; when I started I was 23 and terrified, and I still felt like a college player. Making connections with all the coaches … keeping that going the best way possible.”
With the Yale staff looking after the big picture, it’s up to the players to stay determined and not be pushed away from their aspirations.
“The challenge is, every day is different. We’re always put to the test … fielding, new drills, our mechanics, and we work on communicating a lot,” said middle infielder Navi Schalin, 17, a Vancouver native. “It’s more than two hours every day, outside in the cold, so yeah, it’s really good. I would not be the athlete I am today without going to Yale. The coaches are amazing and so encouraging. They’ll always tell you what you can do better, and they will push you really hard, which has been very beneficial. They are preparing us for college.
“It is really challenging showing up at tournaments, everyone has been playing outdoors for so long and we are just coming into it. It’s hard having the shorter season, but that makes us work just that much more to be better. We don’t take anything for granted. We don’t have the facilities, or as many coaches as on the States. When it comes to the team, we work for each other, and it’s a group effort. Our season is so short, we put it first. We only have so much time, so let’s put everything we can into it, have each other’s back no matter what.”
“I’ve learned a lot since grade 9. They’ve taught me a lot about pitching, and the infield coaching is very good. Every day is different, there’s a mix of what you need to do each day,” said pitcher/utility player Jenna Johnston, 17, also from Vancouver. “If you mess up, they teach you. You’ll do 500 pushups if you forget gear, so they’re hard on us, but they want to make us the best we can be.
“With the weather, it can be hard to find a place to practice. With pitching, I do a lot of long toss in the offseason, and it’s not easy doing that when it’s snowing and minus-2 degrees. Finding a place to do hitting, the facility of my old club team wasn’t heated, so you’d break bats every other week. We’re there for each other. We know what we missed with the COVID years, all pushed back with recruiting. You come down here, it’s a whole different level of ball, the intensity and the pitching, it’s completely different. We all know each other up in Canada, and we know we need to get better.”
Triple Crown, Champions Fastpitch Academy join marketing forces for November showcase
Triple Crown Sports continues its persistent hunt for powerful connections in the world of youth fastpitch and is pleased to announce a marketing agreement with Champions Academy in preparation for the Champions Elite Fall Showcase, a 14u through 18u event scheduled for Nov. 4-6, 2022, in the Atlanta suburban settings of Cobb and Cherokee County.
Along with tournament play, the weekend includes a Showcase Mini-Camp, slated for 6-9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 at the Twin Creeks Complex in Woodstock. This is limited to 75 entries; athletes will work out in three 1-hour sessions with college coaches on hand to watch the action. The schedule for the Champions Elite Fall Showcase will be limited to 100 teams.
Games will be seven innings; the recruiting impact of the weekend includes more than 100 college coaches with a strong presence from the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten.
Based in Atlanta, Champions Fastpitch Academy was founded in 2000 with a focus on individual pitching lessons. Today, the organization operates in five locations in metro Atlanta and has helps players improve their skill set in all aspects of the game as well as strength and conditioning.
“We are very excited to represent Triple Crown Softball in the Southeast,” said Stacy Tamborra, owner and lead pitching instructor of Champions Fastpitch Academy. “We are accustomed to pioneering in our sport and can’t think of a better way to expand our reach to provide Champions Elite Showcase Tournaments and Camps with the highest level of excellence as we bring the best of each of our strengths together to create something remarkably special. The future is bright.”
“Triple Crown Sports has prioritized a presence in greater Atlanta for several years, running championship events including our TC Nationals tournament, one of the most competitive fastpitch settings on the calendar,” said Sean Hardy, chief operating officer for Triple Crown. “We are well aware of the good work and excellent softball that Champions Fastpitch Academy has helped evolve in the region, and we hope this is the start of a useful relationship that helps grow the game.”
Triple Crown Sports has been producing youth, high school and college events for 40 years; anchored by the 1,000-team Colorado 4th of July event, TC fastpitch tournaments draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.
For more information, click HERE >> CHAMPIONS ELITE FALL SHOWCASE | Champions Fastpitch Academy
Shumaker, Batbusters show depth of their skill set to claim 18u title at 2022 TC Nationals
CHINO HILLS, CA – Taylor Shumaker said she’s been pressing lately, making it tough to perform the way she wanted for the 18u Batbusters Stith team.
She spent her day impressing as the championship bracket was decided for the 2022 TC Nationals.
Shumaker was an all-category force for the Batbusters with three hits, three runs and two RBI out of the leadoff spot, coupled with two heart-stopping catches at the centerfield fence. The last one robbed the Athletic of a home run and preserved her team’s lead in the seventh inning, and the Batbusters held on for a 7-5 victory over Athletics Mercado/Smith at the Chino Hills Community Park complex.
Alexis Ramirez (a UCLA commit) had two two-run singles; Sydney Saldana (Utah State) pitched into the sixth inning and Ailana Agbayani (BYU) came on in relief to notch huge strikeouts in her 1 1/3 innings to secure the win.
Shumaker’s first at-bat was a clinical exercise in leadoff hitting, working the count and seeing an assortment of pitches before lashing a double to the fence. Her two-run homer in the second pushed the Batbusters ahead, 5-0.
“I’ve been struggling with being patient with myself; I’ve been pushing for hits and wanting to get them so bad, I’ve been struggling,” she said. “I figured, it’s important once I got my opportunities to capitalize on it and be there for my team. I like hitting leadoff, I like taking pitches and I actually like not knowing what’s going to come. Over time, I knew what to prepare myself for, and I think it’s important to do that.”
Her seventh-inning catch was a true sacrifice-the-body decision as she reached over the fence to grab the ball before tumbling into the outfield barrier. The Athletics kept fighting and got runners on first and second with one out, but Agbayani got a strikeout and, fittingly, a fly ball to center caught by Shumaker as she sped in from her position.
“We were playing back in the outfield, knowing (the Athletics) can really hit, and honestly in my head I’m saying, I have to catch this ball,” Shumaker said. “To get the opportunity and to put it to use is pretty exciting.”
Persy Llamas hit a two-run homer for the Athletics in the third inning, and Brooklyn Lee’s homer in the sixth drew the score tighter, 7-5. To get out of the sixth, coach Mike Stith turned to two relievers, ultimately leaning on Agbayani to end the frame with a big strikeout.
“In the moment I’m just focusing on the batter and not what is surrounding me, the noise, just on every single pitch and that I hit my spots,” said Agbayani, the reigning Gatorade player of the year from Hawaii. “Every pitch is a new pitch; I do have to say thanks to Taylor for saving my butt out there. We take pride in our defense, picking each other up if someone makes an error. The biggest thing is to pick each other up.”
“This is an ongoing grind, a development process for all these kids, and Taylor has had her shares of ups and downs. But in the pressure of this moment it was wonderful to see her step up,” Stith said. “I mean, 3-for-4 batting to go with that (outfield) play? And she threw out a runner at the plate earlier – that was a pretty good day.
“I felt that Ailana’s senior leadership would be more effective. She has the composure, and whether they hit it or not is one thing, but we couldn’t be all over the place and not throw strikes. I let her give it a rip, and she’s a competitor.”
CHINO HILLS, Calif. – There couldn’t have been a more fitting championship game on Sunday evening. What once looked like a relatively calm and straightforward game, quickly erupted into a roller coaster of emotions, with the backdrop of deafening roars from the stands, as Warrior Academy Jimenez and BSC Bengals Briggs traded haymakers over the final two innings of the 16u TC Nationals Championship that saw the Warrior Academy prevail, 5-4.
“This means everything,” Warrior Academy Head Coach James Jimenez said. “The outcome of this tournament and the girls playing this well, means everything to our program. This is our first year together. This tournament really set a spark for, not only winning this Nationals tournament, but our goals moving forward now.”
For a program that was established in 2021, when the West Bay Warriors and California Suncats merged, and for a team that was playing in its very first tournament with all these players together, things could have fallen apart for Warrior Academy in the sixth inning. The BSC Bengals jumped on Warrior Academy in the first inning with back-to-back doubles from Kate Verhoef and Natalia Hill, but Warrior Academy quickly settled down.
Warrior Academy responded in the top of the second inning with three straight singles, which allowed Amanda Beng to drive in a run with a sac-fly to right field. Then a double steal resulted in another run crossing the plate. In the top of the third inning, Warrior Academy added another run with an RBI single from Hannah Cushing. And there the game stood, with Warrior Academy holding a 3-1 advantage and consistently showcasing good pitching and even better defense to hold BSC Bengals at bay.
And then the sixth inning happened.
Hill got things started for the Bengals with a double. Then Ayla Tuua kept things going with a single. And then Madalyn Martin flipped the game on its head with a three-run home run to give the Bengals a 4-3 lead out of nowhere in the bottom of the sixth inning and put the Bengals three outs away from the championship.
Many teams would have folded. But not this Warrior Academy team.
“After that the run bomb by the Bengals, we just got back together and I told the girls ‘This is how champions are made,’” Jimenez said. “If you want to become a champion, you have to overcome moments like this. You have to forget what is happening and look forward and believe that we are champions, and we can do it.”
With their backs against the wall and momentum against them, Warrior Academy showed discipline and maturity at the plate well beyond their years. Tanaya Bryant gave the team some life with a single. Kaimi Tulua, named the 2022 TC Nationals Tournament MVP, then stepped up to the plate. BSC Bengals brought in a new pitcher to face Tulua, but Tulua would not be denied her MVP moment. Tulua saw the pitch she was looking for and launched a two-run home run over the left field wall to put Warrior Academy back in the lead and three outs away from the championship. There would be no come back in the bottom of the seventh inning for BSC Bengals as Paige Mcleod shut down the lineup to secure the 5-4 victory.
“She’s been hot all week,” Jimenez said of Tulua. “Ever since we went to Kansas City, she caught fire. She clutched up big back there, and we needed that moment. Big players rise to the occasion in big moments, and Kaimi Tulua did that. She’s a champ.”
Drama-drenched 18u Power Pool title claimed by Athletics Mercado-Smith in extra innings
AURORA, Colo. — For a while, the offenses for the teams in the 18u Power Pool finale were strangely confined Sunday at Aurora Sports Park. But the breakout moment felt inevitable.
Sure enough, with both the Athletics Mercado-Smith and Texas Bombers Gold rosters packed with powerful bats and a slew of Division-I commits, claiming the high ground at the Colorado 4th of July event would require rising to the occasion at the plate. In the eighth inning, the Athletics came up with the best, final answer, wrapping up an 11-10 victory when courtesy runner Baylee Howley scored on a flyout, in foul territory, off the bat of Kanisha Anderson.
The teams combined for one run through three innings before the dam burst, with five lead changes making it impossible to predict the result.
“This game, really, almost came down to the coin flip at the beginning to see who would be the home team, with the bats in their hands last,” said Athletics coach David Mercado. “The Bombers are a quality team, so are we, and at the end of the day it’s two great teams going at it. Normally by now, people are tired, it’s been a long week, but to see that fight and scrap by both teams, you can’t ask for anything else.”
The Bombers took their first lead, 3-1 after the top of the fourth, and the Athletics certainly seemed motivated in the moment, getting home runs from Kaila Pollard (heading to Florida this fall), Jordan Woolery (UCLA) and Jasmyn Burns (Ohio State) to move ahead, 6-3. The Bombers had another answer with four runs in the fifth, forcing a pitching change and getting well-timed hits from Destiny Rodriguez (Tennessee), Aiyana Coleman (Texas A&M) and Maci Bergeron (LSU) along the way. That inning might have swayed the game, but Kaylee Oh (San Diego) reeled in a difficult catch for the Athletics in left field with two outs and the bases loaded to keep things close.
In the bottom of the fifth, Kaylynn Jones homered, Woolery scored on a wild pitch, and the Athletics were up, 8-7. The first four batters for the Bombers reached in the top of the seventh, and the wind began howling out straight to left field — Abigail Savoy (LSU) tied the game with a single, and Avery Hodge (Oklahoma) put the Bombers up, 9-8, with a groundout.
Would there be drama in the bottom of the seventh as the Athletics hoped to rally? Uh, not really, as Mya Perez blasted a home run on the first pitch to knot it at 9-all.
“I’ve been in a lot of situations like that before, so honestly, my job there is to get on base anyway I can,” Perez said. “My previous at-bats, I didn’t get on, and my teammates were picking me up, saying “Mya, it’s your time.’ I felt confident, and any pitch I saw that was right there, I’d put all my power into it, hit it hard.”
“That’s a special bat and a special right there — Mya knows how to barrel balls, and she doesn’t miss them very often,” Mercado said. “Once that happened, I didn’t have any doubts about winning, although I didn’t think we’d have to go another inning.”
Indeed, a surprising line-drive double play doused hopes for another run, and the game moved to extra innings. The Bombers got one run on a groundout from Reagan Jones (Texas A&M); the Athletics countered in the bottom of the eighth as Burns singled in Alyssa Hovermale (Florida) to tie it, again.
“In the (eighth) there, I try to stay confident, and I’m thinking, hit the first, best pitch that comes to me,” said Burns, who had three hits and four RBI in the game. “I thought that pitch was pretty good, maybe I was bit early, but I got enough contact to get it through. Your goal is to win every national championship that you’re in, and we got it done.”
Anderson got down to her final strike in her at-bat; she lifted a ball to left field, and with it drifting toward the fence, Howley was able to score without a play at the plate when the ball was caught.
Mercado highlighted the play of his three seniors, Woolery, Pollard and Lauryn Borzilleri (Kentucky). Hodge reached base three times and drove in two runs for the Bombers. Keely Williams (Texas A&M) reached base three times and scored twice; Rodriguez doubled and drove in two runs.
AURORA, Colo. -- Hampered by injuries and with only two pitchers available, the Hotshots Jones team seemed ill-equipped to make the grueling journey to the championship game of the 16u Power Pool.
But coach Steve Jones’ team has the type of grit, heart and belief that is able to overcome all sorts of adversity, and it did so on many occasions throughout the week on its way to winning the championship of the Colorado 4th of July tournament.
The Hotshots dug out of an early five-run hole with back-to-back explosive rallies and went on to a 13-8 victory over the Tampa Bay Mustangs Rene on a blustery afternoon game Sunday at the Aurora Sports Park. It was the fourth game of the day for both squads and the Texas-based Hotshots simply found another way to win.
“We’re down some key players and we only have two pitchers, but the rest of the girls stepped up,” Jones said. “The thing about this team that's special is that I don’t know who is going to step up in a game. I’m proud of them being able to do what they did with the players that were out.”
To get to the championship game, the Hotshots won a one-run decision to open the day, followed with a 10-run decision and then needed a four-run rally in the final inning for an 11-8 walk-off win (courtesy of a three-run home run by Kennedy Marceaux) over Firecrackers Brashear.
One of the Hotshots’ three regular pitchers had shoulder soreness and Jones decided to hold her out of the tournament to heal, leaving all of the pitching duties to Mali West (Class of 2025) and Amy Abke (2023), who alternated on the mound all week and in the championship contest. It was West (a left-hander) who got the start against a Tampa Bay team that came in hot after pulling off a late rally of its own to defeat the Oklahoma Athletics National 13-8, which followed two close victories earlier in the day.
West fell behind by two runs just five batters into the game after Riley Onisawa drew a bases-loaded walk and Ella Dodge singled in another run. She later surrendered her first two home runs of the tournament — quite a feat given how much the ball seems to fly off the bats of visitors to Colorado — as Lauren Luciani (solo) and Tayten Moore (a three-run shot) put coach Rene Ciccarello Jr.’s Mustangs ahead 6-1 at that point.
Despite the deficit, West — who was replaced in the inning by Abke — knew the game was far from over with the way her team plays.
“I actually didn’t give up any bombs until this game, but spin was the key in Colorado,” West said. “The ball didn’t have as much spin, so you had to work harder in the air out here. I was a little bit nervous, but it was good. We always come around.”
And come around the Hotshots — who returned to the tournament after playing in a different one last summer — did.
After barely getting the ball out of the infield over the first three innings against Tampa Bay starting pitcher Isabella Vega — whose lone run given up in those early frames came when a wild pitch followed by an error allowed Hailey Golden to score — the Hotshots rallied for four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning that included home runs from second baseman Kristyn Whitlock and third baseman Bryanna Fuentes.
Fuentes would homer again in the next inning to plate three runs as the Hotshots surged to a 10-6 lead.
“It felt great in the moment,” said Fuentes, who drove in five runs on the day. “I knew my team had my back and when you know they have your back, you feel more free.
“I just tried to be a spark like Coach says.”
Roni Harrison followed Fuentes’ homer with a solo blast and then leadoff hitter Moriah Polar — who was cramping severely in the game — cranked our her fourth big fly of the tournament for the third homer in a four-batter span for the team.
“She was celebrating with the kids in the dugout and I told her ‘That was just a big pop up, you’re lucky you are in Colorado,’” Jones said with a smile.
The Hotshots’ fourth-inning rally (which began after catcher Bella Perez worked a walk as the payoff for a 10-pitch at-bat) saw 13 hitters come to the plate against four Tampa Bay pitchers, the last of which was DaNia Brooks, whose father Derrick (an NFL Hall of Fame linebacker with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) is an assistant coach with the Mustangs.
Brooks would hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning, but that was all Tampa Bay registered in three innings against Abke, who had retired eight batters in a row before walking Moore ahead of Brooks’ home run, which capped a 3-for-3 day for her.
“Playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back games on the last day is hard,” said Jones, who got two hits apiece from Golden and Perez and two RBI from Whitlock in the clinching victory.
“It’s been a great tournament,” he added. “We lost our first game to Athletics Mercado — who we run-ruled last time we played — and we were down a couple of times, but these kids are just resilient. When we won that last game (vs. Firecrackers Brashear), I told them ‘You guys may not believe it, but I was standing in that coaches box with one out in the seventh inning and knew we were winning that game.’
“This team has character. They know they have time. As long as there is one more out left, they can come back.”
Added West: “We always somehow find a way to come through and win. That’s always our energy.”
Texas Riptide rides wave of momentum to Colorado 4th of July 14u Power Pool Championship
Westminster, Colo. – It was a Texas duel for the 2022 Colorado 4th of July 14u Power Pool Championship, featuring two clubs who put together three wins apiece on Sunday to reach the final. Texas Riptide 14u, coming off a walk-off comeback victory in the semifinals just 20 minutes prior, carried that momentum to defeat a familiar foe, Texas Glory 2K26 7-1 in five innings.
“(Texas) Glory actually came down to our facility for a camp, so we are very familiar with their team,” said Texas Riptide head coach Sam Campbell. "They have an excellent young team."
Early on, both squads carried their impressive offensive performances from the Power Pool semifinals into the championship game. In the first inning, Texas Glory 2K26 opened the scoring with a monster shot to left center by second baseman Hope Gaudio, but the Riptide responded with two runs to take an early 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning.
In the bottom half of the second, the Riptide added to their lead thanks to a bases loaded RBI single off the bat of leadoff hitter Khamari Hall. The speedster would swipe second base on the play, and later come around to score on an errant throw to third, capping off a four run inning en route to a 6-1 Riptide lead.
That marked the end of the day for Glory starting pitcher Hayden Mowrey, who was replaced by Avery Howerton in the circle after giving up six runs on eight hits over one and two-thirds innings.
Riptide starting pitcher Hunter Quentel showed poise throughout the game while escaping the occasional jam, allowing just the lone run in the first. The righty went the distance, throwing five innings while giving up six hits and tallying one strikeout.
“She is a 2027 but she is familiar with (Texas Glory 2K26),” said Campbell of his ace pitcher. “Hunter has been big for us all summer long and she will continue to win big games for us”.
Quentel was backed by outstanding defensive efforts behind her, highlighted by a frozen rope throw from centerfielder Alisa Sneed, beating the runner at home attempting to tag up from third on a sac fly.
Sneed, ranked No. 1 in Extra Inning Softball’s 2025 Extra Elite 100, also contributed at the plate, driving in three runs on the day. Briana Collazo and Hall both chipped in with multi-hit games.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, it was Avery Evanspickens who clinched the 14u Power Pool crown with a no-doubter over the right field fence sending the club out of Asascocita, Texas home with more hardware for their trophy case.
“Girls fought hard all week long and I am just so extremely proud of them,” said Campbell. “We enjoy Colorado… we will be back to defend it next year.”