By Bob Behre
Call it a gut check when most teams would have checked out.
It’s little wonder Finch’s Aces 10U coach Christian Campbell was walking around Diamond Nation on Monday with a hop in his step. He was just one day removed from witnessing one of the most remarkable comebacks in Finch’s Aces history.
The 10U Aces rallied from a 7-0 deficit by striking for eight runs in the bottom of the sixth inning -- its final at bat -- to overcome the Talleyville Travellers, 8-7. The victory gave the 10U Finch’s Aces the USSA West Deptford Spring Slammer championship.
As their namesake -- Jennie Finch -- was preparing for her first performance on Dancing With The Stars, the 10U Aces were creating a new precedent of their own on the softball diamond, winning the 10U Aces’ first-ever tournament championship.
When Laney Adie ended a six-pitch at bat with a leadoff double in the last of the sixth, no one could have guessed the hit was a foreshadowing of some deep trouble for the Travellers.
“Laney had a great at bat and the all of the girls were engaged,” said Campbell. “We really hadn’t hit the ball that well to that point and they were making plays on us.”
Megan McNally followed with a single that chased Adie to third base before Cali McCoy delivered the Aces’ first run of the game with a single. Though there were still no outs, the Aces were six runs down and should, realistically, had little reason for optimism. But that was certainly not the case.
“Our girls were all up on the fence in the dugout and they were loud,” said Campbell. The Aces got louder when Zoe Totaro launched a double that scored McNally and McCoy with the second and third runs of what had now legitimately become an uprising.
Bella Malinconico then drew a walk before pinch-hitter Connor Fogarty singled to reload the bases with, unbelievably, still no outs. Remarkably, Brooke Cahill came to the plate representing the tying run. If there was any doubt the 10U Aces meant business in their final at bat, all of that pessimism had been removed.
“There was no one play that stood out, but everyone was contributing. There was so much energy every at bat, every pitch,” said Campbell. “I get chills thinking about it.”
The chill level intensified tenfold when Cahill laced a two-run single to draw the Aces to within 7-5. Camryn Campbell kept the heat on the Travellers by singling to load the bases once again. And Brooklyn Liskowacki responded to the opportunity with an RBI single that scored Fogarty and shaved the deficit to 7-6.
The 10U Aces had batted around and Adie stepped in for the second time in the inning and grinded out another lengthy at bat. This time she made the Travellers pitcher throw nine pitches but Laney popped out for the first out of the inning.
The out only emboldened the Aces as McNally worked a five-pitch walk that forced in Cahill with the tying run. That forced the Travellers to face down the Aces’ dangerous McCoy and Totaro if they were to extricate themselves from the inning. But McCoy took an aggressive approach at the plate and drove in Campbell with a game-winning single on the second pitch she saw.
Kayla Melsky also had a big tournament performance for the Aces, including her fine play at third base and left field. Eva Szap knocked in two runs in the Aces’ semifinal round victory over All-Out Pack.
“We looked like a high school or college team with the way we were engaged right to the end,” said Campbell.
The seeds of this momentous comeback victory for the Finch’s Aces 10U squad may have been sown during the Jennie Finch Spring Invitational a week prior.
“We had a bad loss on Saturday morning in the Finch tournament,” said Campbell. “ We talked about being tough and overcoming adversity. Then we came back later and took that same team to the international tiebreaker and were one strike away from winning it. That was the turning point for us. The girls understood what they had to do. I think they expect more of each other now. When Jennie was here she talked them about overcoming fear and dreaming big.”
The 10U Aces certainly showed little fear during a big pool play win in the West Deptford tournament. The Aces, 4-0-1 in the tournament, rallied from a 9-2 deficit to forge a tie with their opponent. “They’re a scrappy bunch of girls,” said Campbell. It would be wise not to back this group into a corner.