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.”