By Kyle Koso
CUMMING, GA – No question, Tuesday’s second game for the Louisville Lady Sluggers-Wathen 16u team got off to a wobbly start. But standing tall is usually where you’ll find the roster when it reaches the finish.
As bracket play began at the 2023 TC Nationals event, the Sluggers had a 1-0 mark heading into its game against 5 Star Playmakers-Siofele/Mulipola, but quickly fell behind as a couple mistakes jammed up the works. But with a patient offense that got untracked and some clutch relief pitching, the Sluggers secured a 9-4 victory at Central Park to press on, hoping to clinch a spot in the championship bracket with a win early Wednesday versus Top Gun National-Slezak.
A misplay in left field allowed Belinda Lujano to round the bases for the Playmakers in the top of the first inning; the Sluggers hoped to rally quickly, but McLaine Hudson ran into her bunt attempt and was called out, muzzling the inning. Hudson stayed sharp with the stick in the second inning, punching a two-out, two-strike, two-RBI double that ended up putting four runs on the scoreboard after a Playmakers error.
“The bunt there, that was a fluke, those kinds of things don’t happen very often. My next at-bat, I go 0-2, and I saw she’d been working outside most of the time,” Hudson said. “I had to put a bat on it and move the runners, if I could.”
The Sluggers added four runs in the fourth, primarily by applying pressure, forcing the action and accompanying decisions where the Playmakers didn’t always make the right choice. Jaycie Goad had a big two-run single in that inning, where the Sluggers essentially assumed full control.
“We’ve gotten better at bunting – earlier this summer we struggled quite a bit. The more we do it, the more we make the defense have to make a play,” Hudson added. “We’re not popping it up and getting ourselves out.”
“That’s when we are at our best, when we have a good team effort. We’re able to pass the bat a bit and individually just do our jobs,” said Sluggers coach Shannon Wathen. “We had a couple things not play out in our favor early; who we are as team is about plugging away and responding. Force the other team into some mistakes, and play our game.”
Just before that second four-run push by the Sluggers, they had escaped a nasty bit of trouble in the top of the frame as the Playmakers put runners on second and third with no outs. Reese Rodriguez drove in a run, and that made it 4-2, still with no outs.
The Sluggers turned to reliever Abigail Byrd, who came through as stress levels were spiking with a strikeout, a manageable line drive to right field, and another strikeout.
“I try to remind myself, I am good … and I need to work (pitches) low. If I stay low, I can get a ground ball, and I trust my defense to get us out of the inning,” said Byrd, who allowed one earned run in her four innings of work, striking out the last batter of the contest. “The offense really helps me; I’m not the fastest pitcher in the world. The runs provide a nice cushion for me.”
“I thought that was the difference in the ball game, her ability to leave those runners on, with no outs, to get us out of that inning,” Wathen added. “She made some big pitches. We go from (starter) Tori (Payne) who throws low to mid-60s, to Abigail who is more offspeed and spinning the ball. As long as she believes in her stuff and who she is, she will be very successful.”
Ella Baum had two hits and scored three runs for the Sluggers. Frankie Audujo had three hits for the Playmakers.