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CHAMPIONS CUP – Explosion-Sanchez travel softball team falls in semifinals of showcase tournament

July 17, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

IRVINE-Nearly four dozen 18-Under travel softball teams competed in the prestigious Champions Cup showcase tournament from last Wednesday through this past Sunday as the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship looms. As was the case with the 14-Under and 16-Under teams the previous week, there was some area representation in the Champions Cup, now in its 20th year for the oldest age group as some of the top colleges in the country come to the Southland to scout future collegiate student-athletes.

One of the travel teams with local interest, the Explosion-Sanchez, finished in a tie for second place in its pool, going 3-2. Then the Explosion, with Gahr High head coach Rey Sanchez at the helm, won three straight playoff games before falling to the San Jose Sting-Gron 3-0 this past Sunday in the semifinals. Hailey Sanchez, who recently graduated from Gahr and will be attending California State University, Northridge, went hitless in two-at bats. 

“The girls hit their stride this week,” said Rey Sanchez. “Even in our two previous losses, they were one-run games and in both games, it was one bad inning. But for the most part, the girls started finding their stride a little bit; the girls started finding their stroke. We started to pitch better. Usually, it takes us a little bit of time in travel from high school to get going in the summer.

“That transition from high school into summer to get the team going in the right direction…sometimes it takes us a couple of weeks,” he continued. “But I’m happy with the performance overall. The girl who threw today just kind of kept us off-balanced. She really didn’t give our hitters any good pitches to hit, and we got a little anxious and we chased some pitches.” 

After winning the first three pool play games by a combined score of 35-5, the Explosion fell to the (San Jose) California Riptide-Simon last Thursday and the (Yorba Linda) West Coast Lady Dukes last Friday by identical 5-4 scores. In the single elimination playoffs, which began last Saturday, the Explosion got past the (Pasadena) California Thunder-LeVier/Milton 5-3 as a three-run bottom of the second inning proved to be the difference. Hailey Sanchez had a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth for her only hit in the game. Following that win, the Explosion knocked out the (Highland) Athletics Mercado-Torres 7-1 as they scored three times in the top of the first and fifth innings and once in the sixth. Hailey Sanchez went three for three, scored twice and drove in a pair of runs. She also had another home run and had one taken away earlier in the game, going for a single instead. The last game of the night was a 2-1 victory over the (Danville) Batbusters-Ching as the Explosion had solo tallies in the bottom of the first and second innings. Hailey Sanchez remained hot, going two for three.

“[Saturday] was a great day,” said Rey Sanchez. “Two of the three wins were tight, but in [the second game], we really did a good job of a full team effort. But we felt really good. Usually when you play three games in a day, you almost feel like you’re tired and all that. But we didn’t feel that. It didn’t feel like three games.”

For the Champions Cup, Hailey Sanchez went 13 for 20 with 10 runs scored, 12 runs batted in, four doubles and four home runs. She also pitched two innings, striking out five and allowing one run.

“I’m really proud of the work she has put into her swing, and it came to fruition,” said Rey Sanchez of his daughter. “She has been consistent with ‘hey, we need a hit, we need a hit, we need a hit’. And she has. That’s a testament to her work and her work ethic. She found a groove; she was jiving. She was in a zone. It was great to see and it was almost like everybody knew when Hailey was up, she was going to hit the ball hard.”

Also on the team is Sophia Magcale (Gahr High/University of Redlands) and La Mirada High’s Amber Valdez, both of whom did not play in the Champions Cup. Magcale was in Italy playing in a softball event while Valdez has a concussion from the previous weekend. Her status for the PGF National Championship is still up in the air depending on what her doctor says, but Magcale is expected to play as the Explosion will bring with them a 12-9-1 record in major tournament games played since May 21. The team will play a pair of pool play games on Saturday and one on Sunday before bracket play begins Monday.

The (Downey) Ohana Tigers-Colenzo, with Sienna Contreras (Norwalk High) and Catherine Quibrantar (Cerritos High) on the team, were in the same pool as the Explosion and also went 3-2 prior to the playoffs. The Tigers lost their first two pool play games last Wednesday, the second of those to the Explosion, 10-2. In that game, Contreras and Quibrantar each went hitless in one at-bat and Quibrantar scored the first of the two runs in the top of the first inning, 

In the playoffs, the Tigers dropped a 9-1 decision to the (Sacramento) Hype Fastpitch-Watson last Saturday morning. In the first four pool play games, Quibrantar went one for six, but scored five runs.

No other area players were in the Champions Cup, but some were in other tournaments preparing for the PGF National Championship.