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.”