Friday June 20 Thru Sunday June 22 had the So Cal Athletics Invitational matching 14 of the very best 18U club teams in the nation against each other at Los Alamitos (Calif.) High and Gahr High.
The field is so good, Head Coach Bruce Richardson, of the four time defending PGF Nationals champion So Cal Athletics, says: “I firmly believe the winner of this year’s Nationals will come out of this weekend’s tournament.”
If you’re a college fan and root for elite teams, you saw your future talent on the field; a partial list of colleges represented with signees or commits includes Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Baylor, Cal, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Tennessee, UCLA, Mizzou, Washington and many, many more.
The weather was Southern California perfect on day 1 and the talent was extreme and one of the benefits of the event was there were only two fields with play going on and they were side by side.
I was able to catch about half the games today and came away with the following observations…
Kelly Barnhill of the East Cobb Bullets
The Bullets only gave up one run in two games against two of the most talent-laden club teams in the country: the OC Batbusters and the So Cal Athletics, the four-time defending PGF National Champs.
Barnhill reportedly wasn’t throwing as hard as she has and, understandably, it’s young in the club season. But she still was blowing the ball by hitters and racked up strikeout after strikeout, again, against two of the best teams in the country. She goes up and down really well and I saw several outstanding hitters chase bad pitches because she sets up the batters so well.
In the second game for the Bullets, Barnhill went toe-to-toe with South Carolina-bound pitcher Haley Copeland for the A’s and the movement on her pitches was daunting.
The senior had great spin and movement on her pitches and one college coach was heard to say, “This is one of the best pitched games I’ve seen in a long time.” With the game ending in a 0-0 tie in 6 innings with time expired.
The EC Bullets ended pool play as the #2 seed from their pool behind the OC Batbusters and in front of the So Cal A’s. Bracket play found the Bullets squaring off against the NJ Intensity (a top 10 finisher at last years PGF). The game was tied 0-0 going into the bottom of the seventh. But after a lead off double by Mizzou commit Morgan Walters, Autumn Parrish (Armstrong Atlantic) hit a walk off 2 run bomb to advance The EC Bullets and end the Intensity’s run on the weekend.
The Bullets later found themselves in a rematch of last years late Saturday pm game at the Boulder IDT with the Corona Angels. The Bullets remembered that day all too well entering the bottom of the 7th with a 2-1 lead only to lose it 3-2. But not this time. Tied 0-0 against the Angels AL commit, Alexis Osorio, Morgan Walters rifled a line drive hit to right field and preceded to advance to third base on a misplay by the Angels right fielder. Then with 2 outs, IL commit Kate Giddens delivered an RBI single up the middle scoring Walters to give the Bullets the only run it needed as Kelly Barnhill pitched a 2 hit shut out to advance the Bullets over the Angels on to the final 4 in this Elite tournament.
Once again the weather was perfect as two of the afternoon games were streamed live on Coaches Aid’s website with over 1,000 people watching. After playing three grueling games, the semis saw the OC Batbusters escape with a back-and-forth 4-3 win over a battling Texas Glory team and another Texas team, Sudden Impact, represented well in stopping the East Cobb Bullets 5-1, with the Bullets only run coming on a solo shot by Autumn Parrish (Armstrong Atlantic) her 3rd HR blast of the tournament.
So, in effect, there were “co-champions.” And why didn’t the Batbusters and Sudden Impact play for a title? As the afternoon went on, it was decided that most of the out-of-state programs had travel plans that would be more easily facilitated if there wasn’t a final game. Plus, a couple coaches admitted that they had a long and productive day of play and were happy with three games at the most and didn’t need a fourth. Event Director Bruce Richardson of the So Cal Athletics says that next year the format will be tweaked, perhaps having more time between games, setting match-ups in advance or considering playing the finals on a Saturday instead of Sunday. In any case, the event was a huge success and every coach and player came away happy.
Important note worth mentioning: this was a high-caliber event but teams pulled back and didn’t always play their front-line players. For example, the Explosion lost to Sudden Impact big in a later game on Sunday but ace Brittany Finney didn’t pitch. Same with the East Cobb Bullets—they sat All-World hurler Kelly Barnhill against Sudden Impact (not to take anything away from the Texans success as SI played great all weekend). The Batbusters sat Amanda Lorenz in the Texas Glory game too. And remember the key thing: teams flew in from as far away as Georgia, Florida and New Jersey because they wanted to face elite competition as a tune-up in preparation for Nationals in about a month. It wasn’t about winning it all here; it was to get experience while staying injury free. For the most part, those goals were hit by all.