by Kyle Koso
CUMMING, Ga. -- When a coach makes the right call on a reliever, every player becomes a believer.
The PA Chaos Gold squad certainly had contributors up and down the roster Thursday, but the team grabbed ultimate control in the TC/USA Nationals 18u title game when pitcher Madison Penta took over against Aces Express Gold-McCorkle. Penta kept the opposition in check, and the Chaos tacked on five late runs to polish off a 9-2 victory at Fowler Park.
Penta got the final out of the fourth inning as the Chaos held a tight 4-2 lead, and she went on to strike out six batters, including the final one in the fifth inning as the Aces mounted a charge. In the meantime, the Chaos extended their edge as leadoff batter Taylor Vitola (3-for-5, three runs) and No. 2 hitter Grace Jackson (on base five times) scored twice each in the later innings.
"We're blessed with great pitching; Penta is a stud, and she's carried us through the winner's bracket here," said Chaos coach Joe Spina. "(Starter) Haylei Archer did a tremendous job taking some innings and keeping Penta fresh so she could finish. It was our plan to get the ball back to Penta when it was time."
"When it was 4-2, I was a little stressed, but I try to never let that get to me. I pitch my game, and I know I've thrown well prior to that," said Penta, who will play at Auburn in the fall. "I knew as long as I gave it my all and the defense had my back, I would be just fine. We've practiced and we play to win. We were on a roll offensively and defensively, and as soon as I got here, I was ready to win it."
The Chaos went ahead 4-0 in the second inning; Megan Herka doubled and scored, and Morgan Mesaros (James Madison) stole home as Vitola (UNC-Wilmington) drew a throw as she stole second base. The Aces countered with a solo home run by Sydney Hoyt (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) and a two-out RBI from Kaitlyn Morado (UT-San Antonio).
Vitola and Jackson (Princeton) came through with clutch hits to open up the margin, and Ava Franz drove in a run with a double in the sixth. Two more runs came across on an error.
"I like the leadoff position because it's fun to have the challenge at the beginning of the game, to read the pitcher and see where the defense is playing," Vitola said. "I knew I wanted to take some of the stress off our pitchers (late in the game), and I saw the defense creep up, so I looked to get it over their heads. It's nice to have the pitching, and it makes our defense more relaxed, although when the other team puts it in play we have to be there."
"We talked about it all week, just keep adding runs. When you're at a national event like this playing great teams, they aren't going to go away," Spina said. "We had to keep putting pressure on them; the pressure mounts, and you end up cracking through.
"For the past five years, we've had good national level teams. We've had an aura about us and known we are as good as any team in the country. We talk about it all the time; we may not be the biggest group, but we have heart and we expect to win."