by Jason Hanes
Last year, Team North Carolina (Eaton) fell just short of the 14u championship game at the Triple Crown/USA Nationals. This year, with another year of strength and experience under their belts, the team that came in third last year made sure that they would not fall short.
Olivia Cainey went the distance in the circle, and a four-run second and a three-run third were more than enough offense for Team North Carolina to pick up a 7-1 victory in the 14u championship over Texas Bombers Gold Hybrid in Cumming, Ga., on Thursday afternoon.
The win capped an undefeated run through both pool play and bracket play for Team North Carolina. After a 2-0 win over Miami Stingrays Gold to start Thursday, a 10-2 win over Aces Express Futures led into the championship game. For four days in Cumming, Team North Carolina went 9-0.
“Last year, we got third, and Coach Nate was like ‘I’m not coming back here for third, we’re going to get first,’” Cainey said. “We all knew what we had to get done, and that’s how we got here undefeated.”
Cainey was helped by a solid defense behind her that helped bail the starter out of trouble when runners got on base. Texas Bombers would get runners into scoring position in the first and second innings, but Cainey and her defense kept the Bombers at bay.
“I’m just so thankful that my defense is there for me,” Cainey said. “They’re always there and always ready for me. We have very few errors, even in the outfield. I would say that I have the best infield in the nation.”
After seeing the first five batters go down in order to start the game, Team North Carolina saw the offense click into another gear with two out in the second. A single by Janelle Ilacquea was followed by a walk to Ellie Goins. Sylvia Burroughs then came through with her first big hit of the game as her double into left center scored Ilacquea to make it 1-0.
Following a walk, Skyler Harrelson laid down a perfect bunt 10-feet away from the plate on the first base side, allowing Goins to score to make it 2-0. Aleyah Terrell came through with the final blow of the inning, as her single through the right side drove in a run, then after the ball was misplayed, a second run came in to score on the play, making it 4-0.
“It starts with us with our speed game,” said Team North Carolina head coach Nate Eaton. “We have a lot of good hitters on this team, and we have a lot of good athletes. We have a lot of determined kids who know they’re playing for something a lot bigger than themselves. I think that’s what makes this team pretty special.”
In the third, a Goins sacrifice fly with two runners on plated a run to make it 5-0. Burroughs came up with a runner on second and a chance to put the game out of reach. She would hit a drive to left-center field that didn’t seem to have the distance to get out; however, it kept carrying through the Georgia heat and humidity for an opposite field homer, giving her side a 7-0 cushion.
“It took me a second too,” said Burroughs. “I was rounding second base and it kind of hit me that it went over. I knew I got good barrel on it, but I didn’t know I got that much of it.”
Texas Bombers would get on the board in the bottom of the inning. Caelee Clark would triple down the line in right to start the inning. She would score one batter later on a ground out to make it 7-1 and keep hope alive for her side.
However, from there, Cainey got into a groove and started setting batters down quickly and quietly. “She came out and was spinning the ball well and hitting her spots,” Burroughs said. “With our defense, that’s all we really need.”
“Through the offseason, our big thing was ‘Be Relentless’ and ‘Do Damage,’” said Burroughs. “We knew no matter how hot it was or how tired we were, we had to come out and do damage and be relentless.”
“I think it really started for us last year, when we came to Atlanta, we played 18 games in six days,” coach Eaton said. “We went into the offseason, and these kids grew a lot and got a lot stronger. We trained a lot and practiced a lot. I think that’s what makes us different than a lot of teams at this level is that we have a lot of dedicated parents who are willing to sacrifice and drive to get their kids to us to be able to train them. But they do a lot on their own, and I think that has a lot to do with what happened today and what’s going to happen with these kids in the future.”