Steamboat Springs Based out of Rowlett, Texas, near Dallas, no one on the Lethal Mizuno Sox team was prepared for the 40-degree temperatures that greeted them Saturday morning, particularly their Dermarini bats.
"We had to put them in the car to warm them up," coach Eric Wilder said. "We still dented two. Oh well, that's the price you pay."
It proved well worth the effort, as the Sox advanced through Saturday's single elimination bracket to move closer to their ultimate goal of winning the 18-and-under division of this weekend's Triple Crown World Series.
Saturday's final game, a 6-5 thriller over the California Cougars from Anaheim, assured the Sox of at least one game this morning with 7:30 a.m. as the time to expect the first pitch.
"We've already done it twice," pitcher Jessica Jones said on playing the early game. "Sometimes it's hard to get going, but we always warm up when the sun comes out. It doesn't get this cold in Texas until January."
It didn't take long for the Sox to get going in their Saturday afternoon game against the Cougars, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first. Their lead was short-lived however, as the Cougars, behind Jessica Olivas' inside-the-park home run, scored three in the top of the second.
Lethal pulled even in the bottom of the third when Tabby Rodriquez came all the way from first base to score on a throwing and a fielding error by the Cougars following a routine pop fly.
The Cougars could have easily let the game fall out of their grasp in the third, but third baseman Heidi Steckbauer came up with two spectacular defensive plays. The first came on a heads-up tag out of the lead runner who crept too far off third. The second was a snare of a whizzing line drive down the line.
The Sox added one run in the fourth and one in the fifth to extend their lead to 5-3 with time on their side. Marquita Adams represented the run in the fifth off her inside-the-park home run at Vanatta at Howelsen Hill.
"I looked at my coach," she said. "There was no hesitation. Being up here is so exciting."
The closing inning provided just as much excitement for both the Cougars and the Sox.
Trailing 5-3, the California girls refused to lose. With the bases loaded, catcher Marlene Merchain stepped into the box. She lined a ball up the middle allowing Randi Mead to score easily from third. Teammate Katlin Skaggs tested the arm of Adams, but the Sox's center fielder threw Skaggs out at home. Following basic base running rules, Vanessa Badosa and Merchain both moved up a base on the play. Attempted throws to get both out were unsuccessful, and Badosa came home on a throw to second to get Merchain.
On one hit, two runs scored and the game was tied.
As the home team, however, the Sox had one last shot to win in the bottom of the sixth. The Cougars sent Olivas in to pitch to protect the tie, and she promptly struck out the first Lethal batter, bringing the top of the batting order back to the plate.
Trish Masters reached second on an error, and Rodriquez laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Masters to third with two outs, putting the bat in the hands of the No. 3 hitter, Sherri Faoro.
No pressure, she lined an Olivas pitch up the middle for the game-winning RBI.
"We have a lot of girls with that competitive spirit," Wilder said. "There's no reason to leave the dugout if you don't leave it all out on the field. (Rodriquez) did her job, and (Faoro) is a pressure player that doesn't get rattled. She wants the bat."
Lethal finished second last year and came to Steamboat looking for the title this time around. As winners of the American Softball Association's Region 7, they were qualified to play in that organization's tournament this weekend as well.
Wilder took it to a vote.
"Everyone wanted to come back and play in the mountains," he said. "There's so much to do here."
This weekend marks the conclusion of girls fast-pitch softball in Steamboat for now. Triple Crown is moving this tournament to Park City, Utah, next year.
Representative Bill Pilcher said Triple Crown's baseball division has grown so much that they need more weekends to accommodate the additional teams. Softball's field requirements aren't as demanding, prompting its move.
Pilcher said, however, there is a possibility softball could return to Steamboat in the future.
The finals in the 12, 14, 16 and 18 divisions are today at the Howelsen fields. Play begins at 7:30 a.m.
That's when the Sox will take the field minus a couple dented bats.