Ally Moschberger charges in to make a play at 12U USSSA Nationals.
The spring and summer seasons were already memorable on many fronts for the richly talented Finch’s Aces 12U Gallo squad. Then the girls went to Alabama and made 2021 epic.
With the prestigious Jennie Finch World Series championship already in their back pocket, the Aces very nearly capped their summer with a national championship. The girls went 6-2 and reached the championship game before settling for a silver medal at the 12U USSSA National Championship in Alabama.
Battling back in the losers bracket after suffering a loss in their third tournament game, the Aces 12U Gallo rolled off four straight victories, including a 4-3 triumph over Lower Alabama Pride in the semifinals. Faced with having to knock off the Pride again in the final, the Aces fell, 11-4, and returned to New Jersey with their 6-foot tall second place trophy.
The Pride, in fact, gave the Aces their first loss, a 5-4 verdict via the International Tiebreaker that took two extra innings to decide.
“After the loss to the Pride in pool play, I knew the girls were not giving up,” said 12U Gallo coach Kelly Gallo. “I felt like we played well against them and, from there, we were in command of our path.”
The Aces had opened the national event in grand style, stunning No. 1 ranked Indiana Magic, 4-2, behind a terrific outing by Kate Dougherty. The righthander pitched a three-hitter, struck out four and walked three. Catcher Lizzie Yanni delivered the key hit, a two-run double in the top of the sixth that forged the Aces’ 4-2 lead.
“It was a great start,” said Gallo. “One of their parents said we were the best team they’d seen and it was a shame we had to play each other in the first round.”
Hannah Belluche chipped in with a triple earlier in the game and Dougherty squeezed her home.
The Aces then picked off the Texas Legends, 9-3, to advance in the winners bracket. The Legends jumped on the Aces for three early runs and a 3-0 lead but the Aces stormed back with a huge fourth inning.
“That was a stacked team but we came back in the fourth with a hit fest and everyone contributed,” said Gallo.
Dougherty had a pair of doubles in the comeback and Yanni had two hits. Ava Capezza held off the deep Legends lineup in a gritty effort in the circle. But the game and result may have been very different if not for Kelsey Puma’s terrific play in right field.
The Legends were rallying with the bases loaded when one of their hitters ripped a shot to deep right field. Puma raced back toward the fence, layed out and made an amazing diving catch to end the inning. “Kelsey layed out like Superman and made a phenomenal catch. She snow-coned it,” said Gallo.
The Pride then knocked the Aces out of the winners bracket with their ITB victory and it was time to scramble.
“That was a great game,” said Gallo. “It was back and forth and we really played great defense.”
Dougherty scattered six hits and permitted just four runs, two of which were earned, while striking out five Legends. Jillian Cianfrocca, who batted .579 in the tournament and .617 this spring and summer for the Aces, went 2-for-2 with a walk and Yanni, Dougherty, Charlotte Konta and Sam Kalinak chipped in with hits.
In their first three games, the Aces played, perhaps, three of the most challenging teams in the tournament. They beat two of them and took the third to two innings of ITB. So, it wasn’t surprising that the team’s confidence was unshaken.
“There were teams from a wide range of states in the tournament, so you really had no idea how good teams were going in,” said Gallo. “I had to say, in this tournament, there were a lot of aggressive hitters. Every team was very aggressive. If you weren’t going to put up a lot of runs, you weren’t going to win. But at that point in the tournament, I knew we had a shot.”
Next up was Southern Force and Capezza gave the team a big lift with an outstanding pitching performance. She limited Southern Force to three runs as the Aces rolled to a 10-3 victory against what Gallo felt was, “the best pitcher we saw in the tournament.”
Capezza scattered nine hits behind a terrific and flawless defensive game by the Aces, walked just one and struck out none. Dougherty chipped in offensively with two hits and three RBI, Jessica Yip and Cianfrocca had a pair of hits apiece and Konta had a hit in the double-figure explosion.
The road to the final was still a long one and it was riddled with major potholes in the form of talented clubs from all over the nation.
Doughtery started against the Hornets, but, after some early trouble, Capezza relieved and shut them out, enabling the Aces to rally to a 5-2 victory. “Ava came out of the pen in the first inning and did a great job shutting them down,” said Gallo.
Allie Moschberger delivered a big hit in the comeback and Cianfrocca ripped a pair of hits. Konta and Dougherty also got into the mix with a hit each.
By the time a team gets six games deep into a tournament, its pitchers have gotten tested and the grind of the event can wear on them. So what Charlotte Konta did in the Aces’ game against the St. Louis Bandits cannot be made light of.
Konta pitched a one-hit shutout, pitching beautifully to contact while walking none and striking out none. The lone hit she allowed, in fact, was delivered with two outs in the fourth inning of a game that had reached its time limit.
“It was all grounders and fly balls,” said Gallo. “Charlotte gave us a fresh arm and she was lights out. The girls came with their A-game.” Konta added two hits to her outstanding pitching performance. Yanni, who caught almost every game, drove in a run, Miller drove in two runs and Dougherty drew a pair of walks.
The Aces’ victory over the Bandits left two teams standing in the national championship tournament, the Aces and the Pride. The challenge for the Aces, coming out of the losers bracket, was that they would have to defeat the Pride twice to win the national championship.
The Aces struck first in the semifinals with four runs in the top of the first inning, keyed by Kalinak’s three-run double. The Pride answered with a run in the bottom of the inning and two more runs in the second to shave the deficit to 4-3. Konta, however, was terrific again, shutting down the Pride the rest of the way to secure the one-run victory and a berth in the championship game.
But it was the Pride, this time, that struck first and they struck big, scoring seven runs in the first inning to stake themselves to a 7-0 lead. The Aces played the Pride even over the final six innings but that big first inning would come back to bite the Aces en route to an 11-4 defeat.
“We used all three pitchers in the final,” said Gallo. “We just ran out of gas. Our girls loved playing in the heat but the 100-degree temperatures and humid Alabama weather can wear a team down. But we were underdogs and we came back in the losers bracket.”
The real cost of the Aces’ ITB loss to the Pride in pool play was that fact that it would have to play a total of six games to reach the semifinals while the Pride had to play just three games before meeting the Aces again.
It was an amazing end to an outstanding season for the Aces 12U Gallo.
After its big win in the Jennie Finch World Series in Louisiana, the Aces came home and finished third in a tournament in Rockaway before winning the 12U Finch’s Aces Stars & Stripes tournament at Diamond Nation, scoring 55 runs in their six games.
“Expectations were way higher for us after playing as a unit in Louisiana,” said Gallo. “It was tough finishing third in Rockaway but great to see the girls come back and win at Diamond Nation.” That tournament win seemed to set the tone for the trip to Alabama as the girls, once again, came together as a unit and shined on the biggest of stages.
NOTES: The hard work and talent required to finish a spring and summer at 64-20-1 really speaks for itself. No team wins 64 of its 85 games without doing a lot of the little things correctly and efficiently. … The national tournament had teams from such states as Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas and Alabama.
… The 12U Gallo Aces put forth some terrific season-long performances. The pitching staff fronted by Kate Dougherty, Ava Capezza and Charlotte Konta, with several innings sprinkled in by several others, pitched to a 2.85 ERA. The team batted a robust .414 as a team, hit 31 home runs, boasted an on-base percentage of .489 and an OPS of 1.086. Those numbers are off the charts for team batting.
… All 11 players that traveled to Alabama batted above .300 for the season, topped by Cianfrocca (.617), Yanni (.544), Yip (.446) and Konta (.438).
Thank you to Amanda Monda for the excellent photos in this story!