Steamboat Springs The players on the Inland Valley Stealth are pretty close they've been together for five years. They are also pretty superstitious, so when the coin is tossed and they win the flip, they always choose to be the home team, right?
"We want to be the visitors so we can get out and get some runs," Jimmy Lambert said.
It certainly worked to their advantage Saturday evening in a quarterfinal game against the Utah All-Stars, as Inland Valley put three runs on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning en route to an 8-5 victory.
Of course, batting in a downpour and through swirling winds didn't hurt.
"I think that helped us a lot," Lambert said.
And it put the Utah Under 16 team, forced to pitch and play defense in less than ideal conditions, in an early deficit they were never able to overcome.
So much for the home-team advantage.
Once the rain and wind subsided in the second inning, however, the Stealth, based out of Temecula, Calif., appeared poised to pull out an easy victory anyway after pulling ahead 6-0 through the top of the second.
The All-Stars, thrown together for the Triple Crown World Series this weekend, had other plans and took advantage of shaky starting pitching, loading up the bases for leadoff hitter Casey Sato.
Sato singled, driving in Dustin McBride, but Aaron Converse was thrown out at home trying to score from second. Two batters later, Tyson Mackay drove a ball into deep centerfield, scoring Brady Atkinson and Sato, as Utah cut Inland Valley's lead in half.
A scoreless third gave way to the fourth and the Stealth added one run with two outs following Justin Long's RBI single.
Utah answered in its half with two runs, making the score 7-5, which sparked the spirit in a dugout that had gone flat after the first inning.
The visiting Stealth team, spry and chatty in their own dugout, added an insurance run in the top of the fifth when Mike Evola scored from third on a passed ball.
There would be no home team heroics from Utah, however, as Stealth reliever Chuckie Isbell worked out of a jam, striking out two and forcing the final batter to hit a one-hopper back to the mound to end the game.
Inland Valley's celebration will be short-lived because it has a breakfast date with New Trier from Winnetka, Ill., in this morning's semifinals beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Lambert said the Stealth came all the way from Southern California to win the World Series in their first ever appearance. Head coach Wayne Rodriquez is pretty glad he was talked into this whole Triple Crown thing. The Stealth won a qualifying tournament in California and will have a shot at the U-16 championships should things go their way.
"We recommend everyone come back to Steamboat," Rodriquez said. "I love it so far."
Of course, winning always helps.