by Kyle Koso
ALPHARETTA, GA -- In the past few weeks, the 18u Aces Gold (Ashley/Creamer) have gone from 15 players populating the roster down to 13, then down to 10.
So when a good thing began to dwindle Tuesday at the TC/USA Nationals, the Aces took a deep breath and just coped with the news.
Holding a seven-run lead at one point, the Aces fought off a persistent effort from the Georgia Power Gold-Tunon and slipped away with a 13-12 victory to advance in bracket play, as the third pitcher of the seventh inning, Kylie Chung, got a strikeout after walking the two previous batters. The Power scored four times in the seventh as the Aces nearly gave up a five-run lead.
"We were just gassed, absolutely gassed," said Aces coach Bob Creamer, whose team won earlier Tuesday, 9-4 over Louisiana Bombers Gold. "We went from Colorado to Chicago to here; they are all dropping like flies, so it was amazing to see them battle through two games with essentially no subs.
"Through the years, we've been known as a team that can swing the bats. We can put up runs, and sometimes go into a drought. But we usually swing it well."
That was the strength of Julia Gubner, to put it mildly. The Brown University commit hit home runs to right, left and centerfield and closed with eight RBI; she also hit a home run in Tuesday's first game. The Aces had only a few minutes in between games, and their ability to dig right back in offensively was a key to building a lead.
"It was about re-starting mentally and physically, knowing you have to back into it as a new game. New game, new team, new people you are facing -- you just have to re-start," Gubner said. "Timing and having a clear head (was important). You can't think too much, and Bob, my hitting coach, is the biggest reason I can do that.
"I was very worried that last inning. I had to go in and catch the last few batters, and I was saying, 'Just shove, Kylie, battle through it, there's nothing else you can do.'"
Also chipping in with some power at the plate was Reese Whiteley, who smoked two solo home runs and added a walk and a single. But with the Power scoring seven runs in the final two innings, she knew it was more about the mental endurance of her team as much as the ability to dent the scoreboard.
"It was about having faith in each other. We all had each other's backs and tried to work together," she said. "It can be stressful at times, but we do trust each other. For me (offensively), I was looking for my one pitch. It's one I look for every time, until I get behind, and then I just do it for the team."
Whiteley's first bomb pushed the Aces up, 5-0, but the Power came back to make it 5-4. With six runs in the fifth, the Aces looked to be in charge, but home runs by Bailey Wilson and Maddy Campbell (who finished with four RBI) brought the Power within range.
Leading 13-8 heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Power killed it with patience, getting five walks to help spark the rally. Alex Brown hit a two-run single and Daisy Hess scored on a wild pitch. On another wild pitch, Brown was sent home from third, but the ball caromed back and Brown was called out on a close play at the plate.
Hannah Forehand came around eventually and scored on a passed ball to make it 13-12, before Chung ended the drawn-out drama with a strikeout.
The Aces will play Wednesday morning, needing one victory to reach the 18u championship bracket.