By Kyle Koso
CUMMING, GA – No question, it’s been an uplifting summer of competition for the 16u Virginia Unity Johnson/Ross squad, but being down a handful of players didn’t bode well for its chances at the 2023 TC Nationals.
Based in Rockvale, TN, Unity looked the part of champions by winning the 16u Power Pool title at Triple Crown’s 4th of July event earlier this month. Even though their time in metropolitan Atlanta required rolling with a two-person pitching staff, the roster was the last one standing at TC Nationals, capped by a 6-1 victory Thursday over Arizona Storm National-Mathis at Fowler Park.
Tournament MVP Lilly Parrish (a North Carolina commit) threw five standout innings, reliever Jayden Heavener (LSU) shut the door and Alexia Carrasquillo hit a valuable two-run home run as Unity pocketed another coveted tournament title.
Parrish actually gave up three hits and a run in the first inning, but she settled in for a pitcher’s duel with the Storm’s Eliza Bark. Destiny Harris (LSU) walked, stole a base, moved to third on an error and scored on a groundout by Kaidance Till to tie the game at 1-all in the bottom of the first – Parrish wrapped up her day allowing five hits overall with one walk and five strikeouts.
“At first, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh I’m giving up all these hits.’ At the same time, I knew I had to trust myself and trust my spin and all the work I’ve put in for this moment,” Parrish said. “It feels really good. Our motto is, you have to win every single pitch, and to do that you have to be locked in, eyes on the batter. If you do that, you will be successful.
“I think we play with a lot of heart; we were down (Wednesday) a run the whole game. Destiny Harris was able to reach; we just showed that fight and went ahead 2-1. We never give up. One half inning can win the game, and you can see in this game, one inning changed it all here.”
That would have been the top of the fifth, where Rylie Johnson singled to start it for Unity. She was wiped out at third on a double steal attempt, but McCall Sims stood at second after reaching on an error when the Storm misplayed her sacrifice bunt. With two outs, another error allowed Morgen Talley to get to first, scoring Sims to make it 2-1 for Unity.
Unity catcher Carrasquillo then took a great swing and launched a two-run homer as they moved ahead, 4-1. They scored insurance runs in the sixth on a Simms single and again in the seventh on a bases-loaded walk from Till.
“I was just going up there thinking about hitting the ball, trusting my mechanics and pulling through for my team,” Carrasquillo said. “This tournament, we had the ups and downs, but we got the ‘W.’ Lilly definitely balled out, went 100 percent today. There were some things we had to work through, hitting some spots, but she pulled through.”
Heavener allowed one hit and struck out four in her two innings of relief.
“Lilly had to grind all week since we’ve been short-handed. We talked to both our pitchers, and they said they wanted to step up and do it,” said Unity coach Jay Ross. “They rose to the occasion. We’ve been down bodies all week, and the game plan was to try and find the middle of the field and barrel the ball. The few innings here, we weren’t very good at it.
“We had a little talk; the kids gathered themselves and found the right approach. If we square one up, it might get out of here, but if not at least we’re hitting line drives, hitting in the gaps and running the bases, which is what we do best. We’ve got 15 kids who want to do win and do well for their teammates and for their families, who spend a lot of time and money to get them here.”