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.