By Bob Behre
The Finch’s Aces 18U Premier squad took on the best of the best at the Triple Crown Sports Colorado Fireworks Tournament in late June and came away with a highly impressive second place finish.
The Colorado Fireworks tournament is one of the top recruiting events in the world and the Aces certainly put their best foot forward during a memorable trip that ended with a loss to Tulsa Elite in the championship game.
The Aces, coached by Jackie Spina, Diamond Nation’s director of softball operations, posted an 8-2 record over the five-day tournament in Colorado, both losses coming to the talented Tulsa Elite club. Along the way, however, the Colorado Fireworks tournament revealed the Aces 18U Premier is a serious and rugged competitor in the elite fastpitch world.
That was best exhibited when the girls grinded out three straight one-run victories prior to the championship game. The Aces defeated the SC Bandits, 7-6, in the final game of mini-bracket play, the Clearwater Lady Bombers, 5-4, in the quarterfinals and Illinois Mizuno Hawks, 7-6, in the tournament semifinals.
“Every one of those games was a dogfight,” said Spina. “You are looking at single elimination from the quarterfinals on and we just kept finding a way to advance. The girls were unflappable.”
The Aces 18U Premier had opened the tournament in dominating fashion, defeating its first opponent, USA Explosion, 17-0, and rolled through its first three games having outscored its opponents 34-5. The Aces dropped their second of two mini-bracket games to Tulsa Elite, 7-4. The mini-bracket games are designed to determine the seeds for the tournament playoff bracket.
“The girls shook off the loss to Tulsa and just went to work picking up wins,” said Spina.
Indeed, the Aces would win five straight games after the Tulsa loss to reach the championship game, including its first three rounds of bracket play prior to the quarterfinals. The Aces defeated Bat Company Riggs, 4-0 and the Mizuno Hawks, 6-3, on June 29 before coming back on June 30 to defeat the SC Bandits and earn a berth in the quarterfinals.
The Aces built a 6-1 lead against the Bandits through the top of the third inning before the South Carolina team came roaring back to shave the deficit to 6-4. The Aces scored in the top of the sixth to extend the lead to 7-4. That run proved critical as the Bandits tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the inning to draw within a run at 7-6.
But righthander Kylie Gletow shut down the Bandits in the seventh to earn the complete game victory and send the Aces to the quarterfinals. The Aces had 11 hits in the game and Victoria Aspiazu homered in the third inning for the Aces.
The Aces took out the Bombers in the quarterfinals in dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to overcome a 4-3 deficit and advance to the semifinals. Rileigh Glynn got the big hit, a walk-off single on a 1-0 pitch to deliver the winning run. The Bombers had scored a run in the top of the seventh to take the lead. Lefthander Maggie Swan picked up the victory in the circle.
Having already defeated the Mizuno Hawks early in bracket play, the Aces come out full of confidence in the semifinals, charging to a 7-0 lead through the top of the fourth. Megan Hanily went 4-for-4, including a single in a three-run first inning for the Aces, a home run in a three-run third and singles in the fifth and seventh innings.
But the Hawks were undeterred, striking for four runs in the bottom of the fourth off Swan and two runs in the bottom of the sixth to draw within a run at 7-6. But Swann, who grinded in similar fashion when her high school team, North Hunterdon, won the NJSIAA Group 4 championship game in a pressure-packed 10 innings against Vineland, shut down the Hawks in the seventh for the victory.
Hanily, Glynn and Swan each had multiple hit games as the Aces mashed for 11 hits to advance to the championship game.
The Aces Premier 18U is 16-8-3 since the start of summer tournaments and has been led by Swann and Gletow on the mound and the bats of Julia Martine (.433, 4 HR, 25 RBI), Hanily (.400, 13 RBI), Olivia Burd (.369), Gianna Colalillo (.361, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 23 runs), Courtney Grundhauser (.346), Swann (.333), Gabby Donofrio (.320), Glynn (.295), Julia Loffredo (.294, 11 RBI, 13 runs) and Kassidy Peterson (.275), who has also given the team innings in the circle.