Pressure supplies the bond for Team Canada, which holds off rally by Italy to win 18u crown at International Challenge
by Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER, Colo. — There appears to be a trend in the Triple Crown International Challenge, where one team takes a lead and the other mounts an unlikely and amazing comeback.
To either finish the rally and win, or hold off the opposition and escape with the victory, ultimately comes down playing together under pressure. The rosters for each International Challenge team are essentially thrown together, but playing under a national flag seems to speed up the bonding process.
Your most recent piece of evidence? The 18u championship game on Sunday, where Canada took a 7-0 lead and looked in total control, only to see Italy respond with a massive burst in the top of the sixth inning. Canada relief pitcher Leila Ammon came in, allowed a single, then saw her reliable defense boot a grounder, and the score sat at 7-6.
Summoning whatever pitchers tap into in a moment like that, Ammon notched a strikeout and a fly ball to left field, securing the title for Canada on a balmy day at the Christopher Fields Complex.
“Pressure is a privilege, and I knew my team had my back. Even if a ball gets hit, I know they can get the out,” said Ammon, a Middle Tennessee State commit. “Everyone was just so hyped all of the time, no one ever got down if we were losing or stopped fighting. It was definitely the grit of everybody. Every insurance (run) we can get just makes it easy for it to be me and the catcher all the time.”
“We talked about momentum and energy and effort and attitude; that will win out on the long run. The girls stuck with it — that was the plan,” added Canada head coach Rob Campbell. “They stepped up at the right moments and the right moments are on Sunday. We’ve gone with three pitchers, and they’ve all done the job when needed, and we felt (Lelia) would give us a change in momentum and energy.”
Canada jumped ahead with five hits in the first inning. Taylor Stevens (Morehead State) had a double in the mix, and her squad took a 3-0 lead. Sydney Spayd (Southern University) hit a solo home run in the third, and Taylor Caton launched a two-out, three-run homer in the fifth that felt like icing on the cake at the time.
“I knew going up, I just wanted to do damage, and do it for my team,” Caton said. “I went 2-0, so I knew she was going to give me pitch, so I just let loose.”
Emily Mayer (Fort Hayes State) led off the sixth inning for Italy with a home run, and the rally was on. A hit batter and two singles kept the mood going, and Lucie McDonald smoked a two-run homer to make it 7-5. That’s when Ammon came in and eventually solved the puzzle for Canada.
But again, maybe it’s not so mysterious. Teams that stick together and believe will usually be rewarded.
“We had a big enough lead where we didn’t have to really stress out, although, yeah, it got to a point where we were stressed out,” Caton said. “I don’t know what we had, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I had so much fun with these girls, never had played with them before but they were awesome. We had fun together and really jelled.”
Cuba beat South Korea, 6-4, to win the bronze medal game.
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – They say history repeats itself. For U16 Polynesia, history repeating itself could not have been any sweeter. For the second year in a row, Polynesia won the Triple Crown International Challenge on a walk-off home run.
“I am speechless,” said Polynesia Head Coach Glenelle Nitta. “Even though these kids just met each other for the first time for a lot of them, they had each other’s back and they supported each other. Even when our backs were against the wall, they never gave up or backed down. Shout out to the kids; they did awesome.”
The drumbeats and singing from the Polynesia side reached a crescendo as Kezia Lucas connected on a pitch inside and blasted it over the left field wall in the bottom of the seventh inning, scoring three runs and knocking off Team USA, which hadn’t trailed in the game, 5-4.
“In Hawaiian culture it’s ‘Ohana, and in Samoan culture it is Aiga, which is family,” said Lucas. “Everybody that is here coming out to support us is all family. We all stick together through everything. It showed on the field. I had all the girls behind my back, and I knew that we could do this.”
All tournament, Polynesia looked like a team capable of repeating as champs. The team finished pool play unscathed and entered the championship game averaging over eight runs a game and enjoyed two commanding victories in bracket play over Greece and Canada to reach the title game in front of a passionate and spirited fan base.
“This is probably, hands down, one of the most fun tournaments I think that softball has to offer,” said Nitta. “It’s such a good time. Softball brings people together from all places and corners of the world. No matter where you come from, you can represent something bigger than yourself, and that’s what this tournament is all about.
In the championship game, however, Polynesia found itself facing adversity. Team USA took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning on an RBI single from Zoey Abdullah. They extended their lead on a sacrifice fly in the top of the third inning after successfully putting down two bunts in the inning, putting their small ball on full display at the most crucial time of the tournament.
While USA was finding ways to manufacture runs with their small ball approach, Polynesia couldn’t sustain anything offensively. That is, until Makayla Pagampao sparked Team Polynesia with a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game.
The game remained tied heading into the seventh inning, but once again Team USA put the pressure on Team Polynesia with its small ball. With two girls on, Anabela Abdullah laid down a bunt single, which scored a run on a throwing error. Kaylee Riles laced a line drive up the middle to score another run and give Team USA a 4-2 lead heading into the bottom of the frame.
Team Polynesia, with its backs against the wall, remained as steadfast and composed as ever. Polynesia got the first two hitters on base, which brought up Lucas. The rest, as they say, is history.
South Korea 16u makes sure early advantage holds up Saturday in International Challenge bracket action
by Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER, Colo. — When all seems to be going in the wrong direction when you are between the lines, the best plan is to control what’s going on between your ears.
Noise, distraction, anxiety and defeat were all staring the South Korea 18u team in the face late Saturday at the Triple Crown International Challenge, as the squad from the Dominican Republic assembled a full comeback after South Korea had taken a 9-0 lead in the first inning. With all other fields long shuttered for the night at the Christopher Complex, South Korea found the will for one more push as Katelyn Park’s single in the bottom of the fifth inning drove in Kelsie Skaggs to secure an 11-10 victory.
The electric assemblage of fans for the DR added extra weight to every moment as their team rallied, but not only did the skill set of South Korea shine bright at the right moment, so did their attitudes.
“I just walked up there, and I didn’t really notice any pressure. There was a lot of noise in the audience, but I tried to keep myself calm,” said Park, who reached base three times, drove in two and scored a run from the leadoff spot. “I recognized it as a normal at-bat; the bases were loaded, so all I needed to get was a single. When I see a strike, I’ll swing at it, and whatever happens, happens.”
South Korea started the fifth with two singles, and a groundout put the runners on second and third. Yuri Song, who had homered earlier, was pitched to very carefully and ended up with a walk, which brought up Park for her big moment.
None of that would have mattered, however, without the efforts of South Korea reliever Jordan Goedel, who came on with two on and nobody out in the top of the frame. The Dominican Republic team responded fine at first with a walk and a runner reaching on an error, with that miscue allowing the DR to tie the game at 10-all. As the stands went wild in an effort to push the DR ahead, Goedel rang up three straight strikeouts to preserve the tie.
“For me, I know I have the team behind me, and I like to imagine all the noise in the stands and everyone cheering, they are cheering for me. Not the other team,” Goedel said. “It helps me not get in my head, and it’s fine, all the noise and excitement. Win or lose, we played a great game.”
“All of us were probably feeling bit hopeless at times, but after seeing that, it turned the confidence around to what we needed the next inning,” Park added.
Kayli Lamboy hit a grand slam for South Korea in the first inning as 12 batters came up and the big 9-0 lead went on the board. Naya Martinez hit a two-run homer for the DR in the top of the third, and South Korea countered with Park’s RBI double in the inning to make it 10-2.
Five runs came across for the Dominican Republic in the fourth, fueled by home runs from Gia Fernandez and Destiny Medina, with the rally extending to that top of the fifth before Goedel shut the door.
“Our energy died down a bit, but we did understand we had to keep up the pressure, keep going,” Goedel said. “They’ll keep fighting to the end, so we have to as well.”
Her team started bracket play Saturday with a resounding 19-2 win over Great Britain, highlighted by four hits and six RBI from Soo-Jin Berry, a University of Iowa commit.
South Korea would end up winning a game Sunday in bracket play, topping Japan (7-6), before coming up short (10-5) to eventual champion Canada. But the tale of the 2023 International Challenge for South Korea will always embrace the great start, harrowing middle, and fantastic finish in their showdown with the DR.
“It’s about keeping them positive and making sure they know they can score runs,” said South Korea coach Kim Ensey. “It’s keeping them believing. Katelyn has been on fire all week — that was where we wanted to be, and we have the pieces to do the job necessary. We talked about getting on base, moving runners, and the right hitters will come up.”
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – Coming off a tough loss in the final game of pool play in the morning, Team Canada had to turn the page, and turn the page quickly. Heading into single-elimination bracket play, Team Canada had no time to feel sorry for itself or let the result linger.
The team did just that, knocking off a competitive Central America team, 6-2, to advance to the semifinals of the 16u Triple Crown International Challenge where they will take on Team Polynesia, the defending champs.
“As long as we stay focused, we’ll be good,” said Team Manager Mike Travis. “We had a little off game this morning against Mexico and lost that one, but the kids regained their focus and played a good ball game. Central America played a good ball game. They would have been an easy team to look over, but our girls kept their focus and played well.”
For Team Canada, it has been an experience unlike any other, and one that they are trying to take full advantage of. Flags are waving, the fans are loud and engaged, it’s an atmosphere to soak in.
“You don’t see this excitement anywhere else,” said Travis. “Each of these girls is playing for their country. They are playing for their home country, they are playing for their grandmothers and grandfathers and parents who come from these countries, so they really put a lot of effort into it. This by far is the most fun and the most exciting tournament that I’ve seen in a long time. This is my first year coming down here coaching, and the excitement of every game, every at bat, it’s untouchable.”
Despite coming together recently and not having a lot of time with each other, the team looks more and more comfortable with each game.
“It’s the camaraderie that helps,” Travis said. “We do a couple of things, getting the girls together and getting them to know one another. We had one day of practice and then we played a couple of scrimmage games. We are coming into this new as a coaching staff too, so we are getting to see the girls play for the first time and see what they can do. The big thing is the bonding that these girls have done down here. It’s not only the bonding with just our team, but bonding with other teams. They’ll never be able to get to do this again; this is a great thing.”
Team Canada will look to keep the good times rolling on Sunday at Noon when they take on the defending champs, Polynesia.
“We are just going to play our game and stay focused,” said Travis. “If we stay focused and stay focused at the plate, we’ve got a good ball team and anything can happen. Both teams better be on their toes. I know our girls will be ready for it, we’ll get them ready and mentally focused, and I’m sure they will too.”
By Savvy Rafkin
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – In 2021, they won the bronze medal. In 2022, they claimed the silver medal. In 2023, 16U Team Puerto Rico has their eyes set on bringing the gold medal home.
Triple Crown International Challenge tournament’s Saturday afternoon game against Team Mexico was just an example of what the group was capable of.
The game started slow for Puerto Rico, allowing Mexico to take an early lead with Irma Urnicho’s solo home run in the bottom of the second inning. However, it would be the only time Mexico would find themselves ahead of Puerto Rico.
Third baseman Maya Soto hit a deep home run to drive an additional run across the plate and capture the lead. An explosive sixth inning drove six runs across the plate and left Puerto Rico victorious with a final score of 9-1.
“Our big thing is good defense and good pitching,” Puerto Rico’s head coach Willie Viruet said. “We just exploded that inning. They booted the ball around a little bit that inning, but we got some big hits. Everyone pretty much got a big hit this game, and that makes it special.”
Viruet has been a key part of building the team’s success. He became involved with the squad in 2021 and has watched the growth of the returning players over the course of two years.
With familiarity as a built-in advantage, Puerto Rico has all the tools for success.
To the players, the added pride of representing their heritage means everything. The bleachers were filled with excited parents banging on cowbells and empty buckets rallying around their daughters and teammates.
Catcher Envey Duran felt a sense of pride while wearing her jersey and felt the rush of encouragement from the crowd.
“It means everything,” she said. “I’m representing my family, the country, it’s very special. It’s got a huge impact. I’m very proud to wear this jersey.”
While sporting their country’s jerseys, the bunch gets to finish what they’ve been working on over the past two years.
“It’s a big question mark for this year,” Viruet said. “A lot of the girls on this team are returning from last year’s team. That’s the beauty of this team, we get to finish what we started last year. We got a taste of it last year, but it left a bad taste in our mouths. It’s motivation for this year, and I’ve been thinking about it since the last game.”
Puerto Rico’s mission to claim the gold medal has been long, but the lineup has a chance to bring it all home on Sunday afternoon.
Puerto Rico 18u squad hustles on the learning curve, goes 1-1 on Day 1 of 2023 International Challenge
by Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER, Colo. — More than a dozen years ago Ana Roman had the sense she was just faster than most everyone in her orbit.
“I remember I used to race the boys in kindergarten and just always beat them,” said Roman, leadoff hitter and center fielder for the 18u Puerto Rico squad playing this weekend at the Triple Crown International Challenge. “I’ve worked very hard on my running the past couple years, focusing on my form, and I’ve just taken off lately.”
She made the Christopher Complex her own playground Friday, notching an inside-the-park home run in the third inning against South America to help push Puerto Rico to a 5-1 victory over South America. Macey Cintron (committed to play college softball at Duke) had three hits, including a home run in the fifth, as Puerto Rico bounced back from a Game 1 loss versus Italy.
South America didn’t get the throw from the outfield to the right spot on Roman’s hit, but it wouldn’t have mattered as she blitzed around the bases and scored with ease. Roman also singled and scored in the first inning, a big help as Puerto Rico tried to dial in for the games to come.
“The first game, it was us learning about each other. Once the second game started, we got into a groove and were comfortable with each other, which led to a good result,” Roman added. “It’s a mystery at the start, but a good one. I know the players on this team, what we are capable of, and it depends if we can all do it together. We clearly just did, so I think we can face the best teams and win.”
Starting pitcher Cici Ortiz worked out of some trouble in the second and truly showed her confidence in the circle after giving up a long home run to Audrey Gillespie (Fort Hayes State) to lead of the fourth. Ortiz posted a strikeout and two popouts, and her offense responded as Leilani Nieves hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame to make it 4-1.
“I knew I left that pitch over the plate, and there’s was nothing I could do about it then. She squared it up, that was a good hit,” Ortiz said. “We’re getting to know each other, and this second game we kind of glued it together. I made sure not to let the umpire get in my head, and just do what I normally do.”
Cintron came on in relief with one out in the top of the fifth, walking the first batter but then registering a popup and a fly ball to left field.
“We didn’t make the adjustments we needed at the very beginning, but that was just the first game. I guess that’s the beauty of this tournament, they are all just being thrown in together,” said Puerto Rico assistant coach Noraida Negron. “Some the girls know each other, but we have a lot of new girls and new coaches this time. The team wants to feel like they are being backed up by each other; they made the adjustments on the hitting, so moving forward I hope that we will be OK.”
Analise Griffiths had two hits for South America. Pool play continues Saturday, with a handful of bracket play games scheduled for 5:15 and 7:15 p.m., all at the Christopher Complex.
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – Regrouping from an earlier loss, Team USA U-16 rebounded strong with a 13-0 victory over Greece in its second game of pool play at the Triple Crown International Challenge.
The message from the coaching staff was to play loose and free as the girls are all learning to play with each other. Against Greece, Team USA got that message.
“I think we were just making the situation much bigger than it was,” Team USA’s Anabela Abduallah said of the team’s early struggles in the first game. “Once we just relaxed and remembered to do what we know how to do, we’ve been playing all our lives, we put it all together.”
Team USA scored two runs in the top of the first inning and immediately shut down Team Greece to a one-two-three inning. In the top of the second inning, Team USA’s offensive fire power was on full display. Anabela Abdullah launched a monster two-run home run to deep left field, and then Emery Glaser added to it with a three-run shot to left field to make it 7-0.
“Really we just have to get backspin on the ball like coach tells us,” Abdullah said. “We just have to wait because we were all early on it. The ball will go because we are in Colorado.”
Team USA’s power hitting continued in the top of the third inning as Brantlee Wortham hit a grand slam to extend the lead to 12-0, before Abdullah once again hit it over the fence in the top of the fourth inning. Team USA will take on Team Philippines tomorrow in the final game of pool play before bracket play commences.
“So far it’s been really fun,” Abdullah said. “I’m just out here making friends and having a blast. We aren’t thinking about how we do, we are just going out there having a blast and doing the thing that we love.”
By Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER, Colo – Out of focus for a moment, the 16u Polynesia squad found the clarity it needed soon enough.
The defending age group champion of the International Challenge fell behind in its second game Friday at the Christopher Fields Complex, but the end result looked pretty familiar as the bats came alive to register an 11-3 victory over Israel. Couple with a 6-4 win over Central America, Polynesia is off to a strong start and will face Puerto Rico on Saturday, one last pool play game before the bracket fires up later that day.
Against Israel, the defending champs made early mistakes on the base paths, saw a ball go through a fielder’s legs, and in general seemed slow out of the gate in falling behind, 2-0. But a two-out solo home run from Makayla Pagampao reignited the squad’s confidence, and an eight-run outburst in the third inning essentially sealed the result.
“I try to stay calm in the batter’s box all the time and try to get some runs for the team, just get us on board,” Pagampao said. “The first home run, I wanted to get something on the board for us and get us believing. It means a lot for us, coming from a small island and not getting a lot of exposure. Getting us where we need to be is very important for all of us.”
Israel rode a two-out two-run homer from Galilee Nelson to take the lead in the top of the first inning and had runners on second and third before Polynesia doused the threat. In the bottom of the third, Polynesia loaded the bases with no outs, compelling a pitching change by Israel.
But in bad news for the visitors, the top of the Polynesia order was ready to pounce. After a walk, Ori Mailo scalded a bases-emptying triple, a hit that got to and then through the first baseman before anyone could blink. Pagampao then launched another home run to plate three more runs.
“I wasn’t scared of anything. I knew what I had to do, which is drive the ball and get those runs in,” Mailo said. “We did get off to a slow start, but this is a talented and special team. We are very confident, and I’m very confident with all the girls we have here.”
Adina Rosen drove in a run for Israel in the fourth, but Polynesia countered with two more runs in the frame. Mailo chipped in with a run-scoring groundout, as did Taylor Faga.
“We wanted to rotate the girls and make sure everyone was getting some playing time. Eventually, we got people where they needed to be and the bats started rolling,” said Polynesia coach and team coordinator Josh Danz. “Makayla has a lot of power in her bat, and she’s one of the best home run hitters back in Hawaii. We’ve got as pretty loaded lineup, and she had a great game. Once the girls get more time with each other, I think they’ll put on a show.”
ELLA SPORTS FOUNDATION, ALONG WITH TRIPLE CROWN SPORTS, PLAYS KEY ROLE IN ORGANIZING THE THIRD ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE WELCOMING U.S.-BORN GIRLS TO PLAY FOR THEIR HERITAGE, REPRESENTING MORE THAN 21 COUNTRIES
LOS ANGELES, CA (June 2023). ELLA Sports Foundation, a 501(c) non-profit organization whose mission is to level the playing field for Latina and girl athletes plays a key role, along with Triple Crown Sports, in organizing the Third Annual Triple Crown International Challenge, taking place June 22-26 at the Christopher Fields Softball Complex, 5875 W. 104th Avenue (105th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard) in Westminster, Colorado. Opening Ceremonies, Thu. June 22 6-8 pm at soccer fields next to Christopher Complex. Click for Information and Registration.
“I am proud of ELLA’s collaboration with Triple Crown Sports organizing these important events for girl athletes,” says Manny Travieso, ELLA’s Director of Sports Programming. “For the third time, we welcome players from around the country and abroad who get an opportunity to meet other players, improve their skills, discipline, team building and self-esteem. Thank you, Triple Crown Sports, and WBSC for this incredible partnership.”
“Triple Crown is proud to be a part of the International Challenge with ELLA Sports Foundation,” says Sarah Pow, Fastpitch Softball Event Director with Triple Crown Sports. “Each year this event continues to grow allowing more players have the opportunity to represent their country and family heritage, making new teammates and friends along the way.”
“I wanted to thank you guys and Ella Sports Foundation for giving the girls this opportunity,” says Bruce Lum, father of Audrey, one of the players evaluated at the 2022 event. “It’s become a reality. We are representing Team Colombia and playing in the inaugural 15U WBSC Pan American Games Softball Tournament in Lima, Peru. Hopefully we will qualify for the Championship held in Tokyo, Japan in October. Thanks again for all you do for women’s sports.”
The 3-day gathering features several events, including:
ABOUT ELLA SPORTS FOUNDATION
ELLA is the Spanish language word for “She.” The acronym stands for Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes. It was founded by teenager Lilly Travieso and her mother Patty Godoy. Lilly began playing sports at a young age. Over the years, she became passionate about playing softball and dreamed of playing the sport at a top university someday. Lilly embarked on a strenuous mental, physical, and academic journey to achieve her dream. However, along the way, she discovered the many obstacles and disparities faced by Latina athletes culturally and economically.
After an arduous journey facing many obstacles and with the help of her parents, Lilly applied to and was accepted to Cornell University on a sports scholarship. Her own struggles inspired Lilly establish an organization that would help young Latina athletes like herself to have the same opportunities, such as the mentorship and support they need as they embark on their own athletic, academic, and professional journey. With the help of her mother, Patty Godoy, Lilly founded ELLA Sports Foundation, a 501(c) non-profit with a mission to support young Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence.
ELLA, which stands for Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes, seeks to develop strong Latina leaders that will positively impact their communities while establishing their own legacy. The ELLA network provides young female athletes with opportunities to prepare themselves with college preparatory courses, high quality training, valuable networking, athletic and college mentorship, and exposure to leadership opportunities.
Donate to ELLA at: www.ellasportsfoundation.org
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WESTMINSTER, Colo. – The drumbeats from the Puerto Rico side roared throughout the complex on Sunday evening. The singing and chanting from both the Puerto Rico and Polynesia side were strong and festive. Flags were flying. There is something about representing your country that brings out the best in sports. It brings out the best in us.
For Polynesia left fielder, Atina’eleila Fonoti, that’s exactly what it did, bringing out her best on the biggest and brightest stage. Some kids dream about making a game-saving catch stretched out over the outfield wall. Some kids dream about hitting a walk-off homerun. Fonoti did both, in the same inning, as U16 Polynesia knocked off Puerto Rico in extra innings, 10-9, in the TC International Challenge Gold Medal Game.”
“It was crazy,” Fonoti said of the atmosphere that the championship game brought. “It definitely made me nervous, but I just had to calm myself and remind myself that it was just a game and tune out all the noise.”
As they had done all tournament, Polynesia raced out to a 6-2 lead through three innings. Polynesia had entered the championship with the best offense in the tournament, scoring at least 10 runs in all its games, while Puerto Rico hadn’t given up more than four runs in a game. Facing the early deficit though, Puerto Rico’s pitching and defense settled down and the team began its comeback effort.
In the top of the 4th inning, Puerto Rico put pressure on Polynesia with its speed on the basepaths. After loading the bases, Puerto Rico came through with a sac fly and an RBI single to make it 6-4. In the bottom half of the inning, Puerto Rico induced a one-two-three inning, and the momentum started to shift.
In the top of the 5th inning, Polynesia responded by holding Puerto Rico to its own one-two-three inning, thanks in large part to the defensive play of Fonoti. Fonoti tracked a deep fly ball in left field heading towards the foul line and barreled over the fence while making the catch to record the out. It was a precursor of what was to come.
Neither team was able to muster up much on the basepaths over the next couple of innings and the score remained 6-4 heading into the top of the 7th inning with Puerto Rico down to its final three outs. But once again, Puerto Rico’s speed on the basepaths put pressure on Polynesia.
After a leadoff double from Jasmine Green, a walk and a hit by pitch loaded the bases for Puerto Rico. With the bases loaded, Polynesia got the next batter to ground back to the pitcher and got the force out at home, but going for the double play, the ball hit the runner going to first base and bounced away, allowing a runner from 2nd base to cross home. 6-5. Megan Ramos then stepped up to the plate with an RBI single to tie the game.
In the bottom of the 7th inning, Puerto Rico right fielder Adriana Martinez showcased her arm by throwing out a Polynesia runner at third base to end the inning and send the game into extra innings. Momentum was squarely on Puerto Rico’s side. You could sense it on the field. You could see it in the stands.
“Puerto Rico is a really, really good team,” Polynesia Head Coach Glenelle Nitta said. “They took advantage of all our mistakes. We just tried to stay together and come together to try and get the win. Congrats to the girls. They made all the plays and did all the work out there.”
With momentum on its side, Puerto Rico’s offense got quick to work. With a runner on second for the extra inning rules, Puerto Rico immediately singled it up the middle to take its first lead of the game at 7-6. After another couple of singles, Puerto Rico led 8-6 and eventually had the bases loaded with just one out. A walk made it 9-6 with the bases loaded. That’s when it looked like Puerto Rico was going to run away with the game, but it wasn’t going to happen on Fonoti’s watch.
Once again, a ball was barreled and heading for the left field wall, looking like a sure grand slam that would have put Puerto Rico up 13-6. Fonoti sprinted back towards the fence, tracked the ball, and made the catch while crashing over the fence, holding onto the ball, and ending the inning, and damage, at 9-6.
“To be honest, I was waiting for the ball to come to me,” Fonoti said. “I was anxious. I wanted to get the out and just go hit. It was really fun.”
It was the sliver of hope that Polynesia needed after facing a deficit that it hadn’t seen at this point in the tournament. Charlee-Rose Stevens got things started with an RBI single and advanced to second on the throw, making it 9-7. Mariah Antoque, who had a two-run homerun earlier in the game, followed suit with her own RBI single to make it 9-8.
Enter Fonoti, who stepped up to the plate with a runner on first and one out with Polynesia trailing 9-8. After fouling off a couple of pitches, Fonoti knew what pitch she was looking for. She got it on the third pitch and laced a deep fly ball to right-center field for the walk-off homerun, giving Polynesia the thrilling 10-9 win in the championship game.
“Going into the bottom inning, we were just thinking to make hard contact so that we could score runs,” Fonoti said. “When I first went up to bat, I was just thinking, ‘drive it on the ground and get on base.’ After that third pitch came in though, I thought ‘this is my pitch’ and I swung. I swung for the fences.”
For Polynesia, which also won the 18u division, it was a fitting ending for a team that scored 68 runs in the tournament, 26 more runs than the next best team in the tournament.
“Jocelyn Alo is a great trailblazer for the game of softball and for women athletes,” Nitta said of the Oklahoma University standout who set the NCAA record for career homeruns earlier this year. “She’s an inspiration, not only to us, but for girls across the country that are Polynesian descent. This just shows that no matter how big or how small we may be, we can play the game just as good as anyone else.”