After capturing the USSSA World Series team title two years ago as 11-year-olds, the Columbus Blazers were back on their home fields as 13-year-olds and claimed their respective age championship again, routing the CC Blaze, 11-2, in five innings Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Park.
A total of 41 teams, including 16 in the 13-and-under division, participated in the four-day event. It featured several teams from Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, as well as Michigan, Kentucky, Wisconsin and New York. The Terre Haute Havoc beat Effingham County (Ill.) Heaters 7-6 for the 11-and-under crown, while Riley Indiana and Indy Nitro battled for the 9-and-under title.
The Blazers won their 13-and-under pool play with a 3-0-1 mark through last Friday, and then rolled through the two-day tourney by beating three of its four opponents by at least five runs over the weekend. The Blaze, from Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and Blazers entered the title game as the top two seeds with a combined 13-0-1 record.
But things proved to be a lopsided mismatch once the two squads squared off, as Columbus erupted for four runs in the third inning and another six runs in the fourth against a Blaze pitching staff that ran out of gas.
“We’ve been waiting two years to get back here,” said Blazers coach Mark Foster, who also managed the winning 11-and-under squad in 2010. “We didn’t play in the World Series last year, so it’s nice to win again, especially in our hometown.”
Following a 7-2 semifinal triumph Sunday morning over the Elite Extreme team from Michigan, the Blazers watched as it took an extra frame of play for the Blaze to get past Greenwood’s Indiana Elite squad, 4-3.
Columbus had no plans of wanting an extended game with the Blaze and set the tone early by scoring its first run in the opening inning, when Nathan Vandeventer ripped a two-out triple and then scored on a long single by Tanner Hamm.
Meanwhile, Blazers starting pitcher Jordan Foster set the Ohio crew down in order in the bottom of the first and got out of a bases-load jam in the second to lead his team into the third inning leading just 1-0.
That’s when the roof caved in on the Blaze.
Tanner McFall was hit by a pitch to start things off and, after pinch-runner Jordan McCarty stole second base, Ty Maxie’s grounder moved him to third. Tyler Finke, who showed off his defensive and base-running skills in the semifinal game, rose to the occasion again, this time dropping a bunt that led to a 3-0 lead after two throwing errors brought home both McCarty and Finke.
Finke didn’t miss a step as he quickly took advantage of both overthrows to speed home and give his team a huge boost of confident.
“I love base-running,” said Finke, the only incoming seventh-grader on the team. ”I’ve played second base since I was little. but I think base-running is what I do best.”
Despite being the youngest and smallest player on the Blazers roster, the second baseman showed no signs of being intimidated.
“It doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “I can usually hang with just about everyone.”
Foster then followed with a single and Hamm walked one out later before Luke Hostetler drove in both with a triple to up the score to 5-0. The Blaze answered with one run in the bottom of the third, but the Blazers took a commanding lead next time up with another half-dozen runs.
“Most of these guys have been together since they were 9, so they’ve learned how to play well together,” said Foster. “This tournament was an example of unselfish team play.”
According to the Columbus coaches, pitching is the key to any multiple-game tournament, especially one that features eight games over four consecutive days. Jordan Foster and Hostetler combined to thwart the Blaze in the title contest, while VanDeventer started the semifinal game before Foster came on in relief.
“The great thing for us about the pitching situation is that everyone on this team can pitch,” said Mark Foster. “And everyone, with the exception of one player, has pitched for us.”
The Blazers close out this season with an overall 14-2-1 mark after also winning the Early Bird Bat & Brawl Tournament in April with a 5-0 record before going 2-2 in the Turn Two Tourney in May. Both earlier tourneys served as qualifiers for the USSSA World Series.
“All these guys will hopefully be back next year and keep on playing as a team, but we’ll have tryouts and they’ll have to make it again,” Foster said. “I know I plan on being with them throughout their years.”
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