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CHAMPIONS CUP: Athletics 14-U team has ups and downs in Champions Cup, prepares for Legacy Showcase

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


IRVINE, CA. ~ The action is heating up and there is no time to waste for the Cerritos-based Athletics 14-Under travel softball team, coached by Jon Nielsen. Before the Athletics embarked on a plane for Atlanta to play in the Legacy Showcase tournament this past Monday morning, the team participated in the prestigious Champions Cup, held at the Great Park.

The Athletics went 1-1-1 in pool play action, then surprised the (Mission Viejo) Firecrackers-Lahners in the single elimination playoffs this past Sunday before bowing out to the (Granite Bay) LTG-Carda/Seva later in the day.

“It was a good showcase tournament for us,” Nielsen said. “The main goal in this one was to get us ready to go to Atlanta for Legacy. The games we were going to play were kind of tune-up games.”

The Firecrackers had breezed through their pool with relative ease, outscoring the opposition 34-7. But the Athletics shrugged that off for a 7-0 win with a four-run top of the fourth inning being the dealbreaker.

In the top of the first inning, Eden Pufahl walked shortstop Jadyn Nielsen (Cerritos High), who advanced on a wild pitch and stole third before coming home on a groundout from starting pitcher Seijia Makanani (Kapaa High, Kauai, HI). Two innings later, Nielsen was walked again, advanced twice on sacrifices and scored on a base hit from third baseman Nevaeh Telles (Kamehameha High).

Already feeling confident of advancing to the semifinals, the Athletics put the game away in the top of the fourth and it began with a double from first baseman Natalie Basurto (Walnut High) and a single from right fielder Kayla Tafolla (La Habra High). A groundout from center fielder Lauren May (Canyon High) brought in Basurto and Nielsen was walked for the third straight time.

Tafolla would make it 4-0 on a wild pitch before second baseman McKayla Cotton laid down a bunt up the third base line, allowing Nielsen to go to third. Then four pitches later, Makanani tripled to deep center. The final tally came in the top of the fifth inning when left fielder Alexa Fernandez (Segerstrom High) reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and scored on a triple from Tafolla.

“Again, we’re a good team and they didn’t play anybody in their pool,” Jon Nielsen said. “That’s what happens in pool play sometimes. There was some motivation; one of the girls used to play for my team was on that team. Those coaches are kind of arrogant, again, Firecrackers and what not. But I enjoy banging out organizational teams. I take pride in that. I take pride in that because little guys aren’t supposed to do that.”

Telles and catcher Puakea Milbourne (Kapolei High) each had a pair of hits as part of a nine-hit attack and Makanani and Madison Rabe (Kamehameha High) combined on a two-hitter while striking out seven.

A few hours later, the Athletics came up short in a 5-2 loss to LTG, falling behind 3-0 after three innings before rallying for a pair of runs in the top of the fourth inning. Milbourne had a double and Fernandez a single before both came home on a base hit from Cotton, who went two for three in the game. The only other hit the Athletics got was a one-out triple from Nielsen the previous inning. The Athletics also committed three errors and had 12 miscues in the tournament.

“I worked some girls in different positions,” Jon Nielsen said; “we had couple of girls who didn’t play in Zoom Into June. So, I gave some of them got some reps in these games. More or less, half the tournament was to get the girls some reps who weren’t there for Zoom Into June and the rest of the stuff was to fine tune the girls we have going to Atlanta.”

The Athletics began the Champions Cup with a 1-1 tie against the Cal A’s Hawai’i-Iseri/Agena last Friday morning. The Cal A’s took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Colby McClinton tripled to the right field corner and scored on a two-out double from Kanani Kekahuna-Fernandez. After that, Rabe allowed two more hits and walked two over the next five innings while striking out six batters, four in a row after the double. She would finish with seven strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the bats were silenced with Cotton getting a one out single in the top of the first inning and Rabe a leadoff double in the third. But with one out in the sixth inning, Hailey Yoshida walked May and went to third on a single from Nielsen. Two pitches later, Cotton reached on an error, with May scoring.

Right after that game, the Athletics, behind back to back seven-run innings, crushed the (West Hills) Batbusters-Wellbaum 15-3. While Makanani yielded three hits, the Athletics pounded out 14 with seven starters collecting at least a hit. Makanani went three for four while Fernandez, Milbourne and Telles all had a pair of hits.

Last Saturday, the Athletics were blanked by the Ohana Tigers-Holloway/Contreras 12-0 despite getting seven hits. The Athletics, who stranded nine baserunners, loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the second inning. Makanani and Telles each went two for three and Fernandez and Rabe each went one for two with Cotton getting the other hit.

“Obviously, I want to come out and compete and do some different things,” Jon Nielsen said. “Obviously, the four teams that were in my pool…we had the toughest pool. We got some good, quality games. Again, it was a showcase and quite a few [colleges] saw us Friday and Saturday. So, we got those kinds of things out of the way.”

The Athletics rebounded later in the day and eliminated The Factory, a Rancho Bernardo-based team, 12-3. The Athletics blew the game wide open with seven runs in the bottom of the second inning. Telles led off the frame with a single and stole second. Milbourne then singled to left field and Rabe tripled to the left field fence. After Basurto was hit by a pitch, Fernandez singled, right fielder Sarah Gutierrez (St. Paul High) reached on an error and Nielsen was safe on a fielder’s choice. After the first out was recorded, Makanani plated Nielsen with a groundout to end the scoring for the inning.

While the top three in the batting order went zero for eight, Milbourne went three for three and three other players collected two hits. Rabe, who worked the first four innings, and Cotton combined on a four-hitter.

After leaving early this past Monday morning for the Peach state, the Athletics had a game this past Wednesday, two on July 11, three more today and one on Saturday. The team will fly back home on Monday.

“That’s part of the deal, that’s kind of how everything goes,” Jon Nielsen said. “That’s the fun part of it.”