By Kyle Koso
WESTMINSTER – With dozens of nationalities represented at Triple Crown’s inaugural International Challenge fastpitch event, there were certain forces that transcended any border, such as the tension of a well-played, extra-inning contest.
That’s how the gold medal game at the Christopher Field complex played out Sunday, with Team USA Blue and Team South Korea locked in a classic nailbiter under stormy skies on the eve of the Colorado 4th of July tournament. In the end, an infield out and wild pitch brought home the deciding runs for USA Blue, which eked out a 4-2 victory to claim the championship.
Momentum swings and the sweet anxiety that comes with a quality game rippled throughout the contest. USA Blue pitcher Kylie Chung went all seven innings and struck out 12 batters, allowing two unearned runs on two hits and two walks. Laurel Moody hit a game-tying solo home run for USA Blue in the top of the fifth inning; she drove in a run in the seventh on a groundout, and Chung added a run on a wild pitch after reaching earlier on a fielder’s choice.
It’s been a whirlwind weekend for Chung, who will play collegiately at Stanford. She flew home to catch her high school team’s playoff game Saturday (in Westlake Village, CA), then came back to Colorado to push her squad into the winner’s circle Sunday.
“The game often gets away from people, so I try to slow it down in big moments and hit my spots. I was able to come through for my team today because I was ready when things began to speed up,” said Chung, who mixed her strong fastball with a willingness to go with breaking pitches in any count. “I felt really confident; my catcher Addie (Mettler) and I are on the same (club) team, so we are already on the same page.
“When my high school team pulled out a win at regionals, there was no way I was going to let them go to the state championship without me. I knew I had to fly back and be there for my team. And (for the International Challenge), the people on my team … there’s no way I would have met them by random chance. This is a mix of people, and I’m so glad I got to meet them and make new friends.”
South Korea took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a single from Katelyn Park, and with starter Kiera Buchar looking strong in the circle, an upset looked more than possible (USA Blue had gone undefeated through the event). But that’s when Moody calmed the vibe with a long home run to left-center.
“I was looking for my pitch, and I wanted to play for my pitcher, who was throwing really well,” Moody said. “The home run, just got my pitch and hit it, looking for something down in the zone. We really played together, played for each other and picked each other up. We had a lot of good at-bats.”
Paige Dimler (Arizona commit) singled and scored in the fourth inning on a hit by Mettler for the game’s first run; Dimler also made a great throw from center field to ring up a runner trying to extend a hit to a double. These were the type of little moments that made USA Blue ultimately too tough to take down.
“It was about being there for each other. At this level, they know they are good, but you still have to execute,” said USA Blue coach Ben McKinney. “Not everyone had their best game, but they knew they had the support of the bench, and everyone played hard. We know to put the ball in play … championships are won by putting balls in play. It worked out for us.”
“I want to say thanks to Triple Crown and (event director) Manny Travieso, because this is an amazing event and is just going to blow up big.”