by Kyle Koso
ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- At the highest level of club softball, players have to figure out their plan for each at-bat, while still being prepared to make adjustments.
You can safely say Dave McCorkle wished his Aces Express 18u Gold team had been quicker studies late Tuesday afternoon, stuck in a scoreless tie with the Carolina Cardinals in bracket play at the TC/USA Nationals. Fortunately for the Aces, pitcher Aaliyah Garcia suppressed the Cardinals from start to finish, and a late two-run home run from Courtney Day ended up sending the Aces away with a 2-0 victory.
That sets up a Wednesday game for the Aces from Texas, playing against California's Aces Ashley/Creamer, with the winner securing a spot in the 18u championship bracket.
Garcia never allowed a runner past second base, gave up no walks and struck out five batters, getting multiple outs on just one- and two-pitch at-bats.
"I like to get ahead in the count, and I know my coaches like that, too. I wasn't doing the best at the plate, so if that's happening, I have to step it up on the field," said Garcia who is headed to Georgia Southern. "I like those close-game situations ... maybe not at the plate, but on the mound I enjoy that. We are trying to focus on playing good games back-to-back, and here to play five great ones. We are on the verge of that."
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Ciarra Mata singled for the Aces, and with two strikes and two outs, Day made a perfect swing to secure what proved to be the winning margin; this came right after McCorkle pleaded loudly from the third-base coaching box for a quality at-bat.
"I don't get too much in my head. I take it one pitch at a time and look for a pitch I can really drive," said Day, who is headed to Texas. "Coach Mac was yelling, but I brushed it off and did what I needed to do. I was expecting the pitch there, because she had just gotten me on two pitches in the same spot. It happened to go there, and I took care of it.
"That was a fun game; it definitely kept you on your toes, and I enjoy being in a competitive and tight position like that."
"That's what Courtney does -- she takes those hacks. I knew somebody was going to break it open, and I'm glad it was Courtney," Garcia added.
McCorkle probably isn't done talking to his roster about their bats, but he agreed fully that Garcia was the primary asset for the contest.
"She pounded the zone; I give a lot of credit to Jasie Roberts at catcher. She controls the game, calling the pitches, and we got two shutouts today that way," he said. "AG is a state champion in Texas -- she's tough to barrel up, because she works on all the corners and changes speeds, and is a competitor.
"We've struggled more this summer than I think we should. Out of high school, the kids get used to hitting middle of the zone, and at this level you don't get that. You have to make adjustments as a team, and when pitchers are successful, they are going to go back there. You have to make them stop.
"Courtney hit a home run earlier today, but she's better than she's (showing), and I got a little frustrated. Got to find a way -- she's one of the best hitters in Texas, and she came through."