From left, rear: Griffin Campbell, Adi Saaf, Erin Shurtz, Claire Kaneko, Robyn Wampler, Isabel Lavrov, Maeve Gallagher, Grace Rusin. Front: Coach Zoe Oliver-Grey, Jessica Kelly, Hannah Lane-Goldstein, Zinnia Thewlis, Quinn Lewis, Aida Baron, Coach Kelsey Murakami. Very front: Bat boy Walker Lewis. Photo: Kate Campbell

By Kate Campbell

Playing at the Big League Dream fields in Manteca, the Albany-Berkeley Sting team was once again undefeated in their three Saturday round robin games in a field of ten teams. Seeded second on Sunday, they went on to win the tournament in extra innings with international tie-breaker rules in the championship game, defeating the Brentwood Wildcats 9-7.

The Big League Dreams park includes six field modeled after major league stadiums. Sting played a game each at Tiger Stadium and Yankee Stadium, but played the remaining four games at Fenway Park. With turf infields and well-maintained grassy and spacious outfields, as well as goofy painted walls to simulate the unique architecture of the outfield stands, the “stadiums” were not only fun but conducive to clean fielding on infield grounders and successful base running on long hits to the outfield.

Sting’s victory was based on strong hitting, solid pitching, and consistent fielding; in the end, though, it was strong hitting that won the tournament for them. In the championship game, they repeatedly smacked the ball out of the infield to get on base; overall they converted 13 base hits into nine runs, including the clutch two-out triple by Claire Kaneko with bases loaded in the final inning that put them three runs ahead. A fabulous running grab of a fly ball by Maeve Gallagher in left field clinched the victory.

Adi Saaf rounds third base during her second consecutive home run against the Tracy Triumph. Photo: Kate Campbell

While nothing can rival the extra-innings excitement of a tight, well-played championship game, the semi-final match against the Oakley-based Hot Shots also had a lot of drama. Tied 5-5 after two innings, both teams went scoreless during rapid third and fourth innings. In the fifth and final inning, strong Sting hitting came to the fore, and after three singles by Robyn Wampler, Hannah Lane-Goldstein and Griffin Campbell, powerhouse Isabel Lavrov knocked a huge triple to left center field to bring them all in, winning the game 8-5. Sunday had started with a match-up with the Sacramento-area California Yard Sharks in which Claire Kaneko started in the first inning with a massive home run to put Sting on the scoreboard.

In the third inning, two singles by Hannah Lane-Goldstein and Robyn Wampler, as well a double by Adi Saaf and smart base running by all, brought in three more runs.

The fourth and final inning saw a sweet bunt (one of many for the tournament) by Aida Baron, a single by Lavrov, a double by Kaneko, and a huge long triple over the center fielder’s head by Wampler, ending and winning the game 8-1. Saturday had its share of softball action, too.

The morning dawned shady and uncharacteristically cool for Manteca in June, with Sting’s first game against longtime-rival East Bay Impact starting at Fenway Park at 7:30 am. Both teams warmed up slowly, with two scoreless innings. The fans in the stands beyond the outfield are painted in place, but Sting fans along the first base line were real enough, and loud and raucous in the bottom of the third as pitcher Robyn Wampler hit a rocketing ground ball just fair down the third base line with bases loaded. It was Wampler’s first ever home run, and first ever grand slam. Two separate runs managed by Impact in the third and the fourth innings respectively weren’t enough to keep Sting from their 4-2 victory.

Sting’s second game was against the Tracy Triumph at Tiger Stadium, and Tracy did not Triumph. Sting had their only shutout of the tournament, winning 12-0 by the mercy rule after the third inning. The whole team stepped up for strong batting and clean fielding. Particularly notable were Adi Saaf’s dramatic back-to-back home runs (a replay from the Piece of the Rock tournament the previous weekend). Twice she hit long, strong fly balls far over the head of the left fielder, and twice was surrounded by giddy team members after running the bases. Big League Dreams fields reward strong hitters, as the fields are deeper than most tournament fields, and don’t close out strong hits at second or third when a ball hits a fence.

In the fourth inning of Sting’s third Saturday game against the Elk Grove Thunder in Yankee Stadium, Robyn Wampler came in to close, having shared pitching duties for the day with Quinn Lewis and Hannah Lane-Goldstein. Late in the game, as Robyn pitched a strikeout to her second hitter in a row, coach Zoe Oliver-Grey came into the dugout to teach the girls on the bench a new cheer for a strikeout to the tune of “Sweet Caroline.” And just in time…Robyn struck out the fourth batter for the final out, and the girls sang: “Sweet stri-ke out, bom bom bom, Robyn’s never looked so good…” Sting won the game 8-4.

Robyn Wampler pitches in championship against Brentwood Wildcats. Photo: Tabitha Soren

Unfortunately Saturday was a day for a few injuries. Some think softball isn’t a contact sport – but Erin Shurtz and Buster Posey know otherwise. In their first game, following very aggressive management of base runners, Erin made the successful tag of a sliding runner at home, but her right knee suffered. In the second game, Maeve ended up with a bleeding injury from sliding to the front of her right ankle; “everyone ends up with that one at some point” was the friendly counsel from Oliver-Grey. Griffin Campbell tweaked her good ankle in right field in game two as well. Maeve and Griffin were right back at it, and even Erin determinedly played catcher in game three – although she left the game limping to well-deserved applause in the 4th inning. And finally – sometimes it’s the off-field activities that make the difference – Grace Rusin tweaked her wrist Saturday evening, and although she capably covered second base per usual in the second and third games on Sunday, she was unable to bat. Erin too aggravated her knee injury during an ill-fated round of freeze tag after dinner Saturday night.

Other highlights of the tournament:
• Griffin Campbell stepped up to play catcher for the three Sunday games after Erin Shurtz’s knee injury and Grace Rusin’s wrist injury, making two outs catching short pops near home plate, one in the extra innings of the championship game. Overall, Griffin played in five of the six weekend games, garnering four singles at bat.
• Zinnia Thewlis played second base against Yard Sharks Sunday, but had her best catches in left field on Saturday against the Tracy Triumph.
• Jessica Kelly had a single and eventually scored in Saturday’s game against the Triumph, and ably served as courtesy runner for catcher Griffin Campbell on Sunday, becoming the first of three runners across the plate in the final inning of the championship game when Sting pulled ahead.
• Maeve Gallagher spent much of the game in left field, getting an opportunity to make a difference by running dramatically forward to catch the final fly ball of the game, locking in Sting’s victory.
• Quinn Lewis had a particularly sharp eye at the plate, getting on base with walks in all three plate appearances against the Hot Shots. She also managed a key walk in the final inning of the championship game to be part of the three RBIs on Claire Kaneko’s game-winning triple.
• Shortstop Isabel Lavrov has become habituated to double plays recently, and had her opportunity in the second Saturday game, fielding the ball near second base for the force second out of the inning, then rocketing the ball to Robyn Wampler on first base for the third out.
• Aida Baron was versatile at the plate on Sunday, on base variously with a bunt, a double on a strong hit to left field, and a walk.

Overall the Sting 12U team works fabulously well together, picking each other up and encouraging one another to do better – and the proof is in the pudding. Stay tuned to see what they’ll do at their next appearance at the California State Championships July 6-8 in Sunnyvale.

Additional game detail by Gary Goldstein and Michael Saaf.

Sting softball league wins first tournament of the year [06.18.12]
Hits, put-outs and a Garbanzo tournament victory [05.03.12]
Michael Lewis: After Moneyball comes softball [12.15.11]

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