Finch’s Aces 12U Gallo sports their Jennie Finch World Series championship tee-shirts with Jennie.
Saddled with the 16th seed and an early loss in bracket play, Finch’s Aces 12U Gallo rallied to win its next eight games and secure the coveted Jennie Finch World Series championship on Sunday in Sulphur, Louisiana.
It was an epic performance by the Finch’s Aces 12U, topped off by a wild 7-6 ITB victory over Louisiana Outbreak in the championship game. The game and championship wasn’t sealed until left fielder Olivia Miller made a terrific running catch near the foul line to end the game and strand an Outbreak runner at third base.
“Olivia made a catch on the run and had to reach for it at the end to catch it,” said Finch’s Aces 12U coach Jim Gallo. “It was a laser and it was slicing toward the line.”
Finch’s Aces 12U performed at an incredibly high level in winning 11 of its 12 tournament games over four highly competitive days in the grueling Louisiana heat. The team batted a gaudy .433 and pitched to a 1.55 ERA while playing rock solid defense.
“It was a group effort by all 10 girls,” said Gallo. “We played every aspect of the game well. We ran the bases well, hit, pitched and defended. The girls played as close to perfect as you can play.”
The Finch’s Aces 12U got off to a great start by sweeping their three pool play games, knocking off Clutch, 6-3, Louisiana Slam, 6-2, and Texas Shock, 5-3, to get their feet under themselves in a very positive way. The bracket seeds were achieved via a blind draw and the Aces didn’t get much of a break by drawing the Texas Outrage in the first round of the double elimination tournament.
The Aces had their only clunker in the tournament, falling 6-2 to the Outrage in the very first game of bracket play. “That was the only game we weren’t at our best,” said Gallo, “It just meant that we had to fight even harder.”
The 12U Aces didn’t get to 43-11-1 this spring without some trial, tribulations and some outstanding development.
“As we’ve played more and more together we’ve learned to recover and shake off our mistakes,” says Gallo. “They are 12 years old. They used to get down on themselves after mistakes, but they’ve become mentally tough. They’ve learned you need a short memory in this game. We also saw that when they show up and play their game they are unbelievably good.”
Over their next eight games in bracket play, the Finch’s Aces 12U would permit just eight runs, winning all eight, and catapulted themselves straight into the championship game. Along the way, Kate Dougherty shut out the Texas Dirt Divas, 9-0, Ava Capezza whitewashed the Texas Shock, 7-0, and Dougherty, again, tossed a shutout, this time a 5-0 decision over Louisiana Fierce. The 12U Aces, in fact, got complete game efforts from their pitchers in each of the first seven games of bracket play.
There were two very noteworthy victories, as well, before the Aces would take on a tremendous Louisiana Outbreak squad in the championship game.
The 12U Aces picked off Dallas Ruthless, 4-1, in the fifth game of bracket play. Dallas Ruthless is coached by Olympic softball gold medalist Crystl Bustos, who had been a frequent clinician at Diamond Nation during Jennie Finch Extravaganzas. Finch and Bustos are very close, so, says Gallo, “We gave Jennie bragging rights with Crystl.”
The Aces’ victories continued to get bigger as the tournament progressed and their wins piled up. Gallo and his girls would collide with Louisiana Slam in the semifinals. The Slam entered the tournament as the favorite. The problem for the Slam was the Aces didn’t seem to be affected by that designation and did the slamming themselves to the tune of an 8-3 victory. That set the stage for the championship game against Louisiana Outbreak and it would be a doozy.
Each team took its turn trying to deliver a knockout punch and the game reached extra innings knotted at 5-5. Under the International Tiebreaker rule, each team has an opportunity to begin the first extra inning with a runner at second base and no outs. The 12U Aces were at a disadvantage in that they were the visitors.
Cianfrocca, who had made the Jennie Finch World Series her own little playland, batting .769 (20-for-26) and drove in 25 runs, started on second base for the Aces. Jessica Yip, batting .444, led off and dropped down an intended sac bunt that got Cianfrocca to third. But the speedy Yip also beat out the bunt for a single.
Ally Moschberger stepped in and delivered Cianfrocca on a deep-enough fly to left field that allowed her to tag and score the go-ahead run. Yip alertly took second on the relay. The Aces then used the bunt again and some alert base running to manufacture what would be a decisive insurance run.
Kelsey Puma dropped down a bunt and, while the Outbreak was able to get her at first base, “they were slow making the play and Yip scored all the way from second,” said Gallo. Yip got a great secondary lead, broke on the bunt and never stopped running, charging all the way home. “It was a pretty close play at the plate but Jess just beat the throw, sliding wide and swiping her hand across the plate.”
Yip’s dash from second would prove critical after the Outbreak got out of further trouble and came to bat needing two runs to tie and three to win the championship. Remember, starting an inning with a runner on second base is an instant rally, so the situation remained tenuous.
The situation, though, went from tenuous to scary when the Outbreak leadoff batter ripped a double to chase home the runner from second and shave the deficit to 7-6. The next batter bunted the runner to third, so the Outbreak was just 60 feet away from tying the game.
Charlotte Konta, who entered the game in the fifth inning, then got the next batter to hit a flare to the shortstop Yip for the second out. The Aces could now almost feel the championship trophy in their hands. To the Outbreak’s credit, they kept attacking the ball, and the next batter ripped a slicing shot down the left field line. Miller gave chase, reached out at the last second and made the catch to secure the championship for the Aces.
It was a championship game victory that capped the tournament appropriately, because it truly took a full team effort to close it out. Kalinak and Konta had two hits in the final, Cianfrocca and Moschberger each drove in two runs and Puma, Capezza and Yanni each drove in a run. And all three Aces pitchers — Dougherty, Capezza and Konta — were utilized to contain the potent Outbreak lineup.
“There was quite a buzz as the 12U girls advanced in the tournament,” said Diamond Nation softball coordinator Christian Campbell. “When they won I was getting calls from parents of girls on our other teams. Everyone was following them, many with no connection to the team other than being in our program. They were just happy for the girls because they are Aces.
“I’m so proud of this group. I’ve been telling everyone to trust the process. We try to develop girls over the long term. That allows the girls to relax and learn from their mistakes. We want them to understand how to play softball and be a great human being.”
Finch’s Aces 12U’s JF World Series Game-by-Game
Game 1: Aces 6, Clutch 3
Game 2: Aces 6, Louisiana Slam 2
Game 3: Aces 5, Texas Shock 3
Game 1: Texas Outrage 6, Aces 2
Game 2: Aces 9, Texas Dirt Divas 0
Game 3: Aces 7, Texas Shock 0
Game 4: Aces 10, Texas Outrage 1
Game 5: Aces 4, Dallas Ruthless (Bustos) 1
Game 6: Aces 5, Louisiana Fierce 0
Game 7: Aces 9, Louisiana Reloaders 1
Semifinals: Aces 8, Louisiana Slam 3
Championship: Aces 7, Texas Outbreak 6 (ITB)
Run Differential: 78-26
Finch’s Aces 12U Gallo Jennie Finch World Series Roster
Ava Capezza – P/1B/3B
Jillian Cianfrocca – 1B
Kate Dougherty – P/OF
Sam Kalinak – SS/OF
Charlotte Konta – P/SS
Olivia Miller – OF
Ally Moschberger – C/3B
Kelsey Puma – 3B/OF/P
Elizabeth Yanni – C/3B
Jessica Yip – 3B/2B
NOTES: The grind of the four-day, 12-game run for the 12U Aces was made more challenging by 95-degree temperatures and the typically brutal Louisiana humidity that hovered all weekend at 100 percent. … The Finch’s Aces 12U Gallo will be in Rockaway, N.J. on Saturday for the USSSA Pride in the Diamond tournament, then returns home to Diamond Nation for the Finch’s Aces Stars and Stripes tournament July 2-5.
… When the Aces gained a bit of revenge on the Outrage via a 10-1 victory in bracket play, the game could have been very different if the Aces hadn’t extricated themselves from two big jams and turned a couple double plays. “We got ourselves out of bases-loaded, no-out jams two or three times in the tournament,” said Gallo.
… In the championship game, the Aces pulled off a beautiful relay to cut down a runner at third base. Center fielder Kalinak started it by feeding the cutoff, second baseman Puma, who turned and fired to Moschberger at third.
… The hitting performance by the Aces 12U Gallo was truly stunning. Cianfrocca led the team with a .769 batting average, 20 hits, including 7 doubles and 3 triples, 16 runs and 25 RBI. But she was far from alone in the offensive barrage. Yanni batted .552 and drove in 14 runs, Konta batted .545, scored 14 runs and got the win in the championship game, Kalinak ripped it for .517 and scored 15 runs and Puma batted .333 and reached base at a .500 clip.
… The Aces pitching staff — Capezza, Dougherty and Konta, with one inning in thrown in from Puma — permitted just 13 earned runs and 44 hits in 50.1 innings and posted that impressive 1.55 ERA. And the 12 errors the team committed in 12 games is a very small number, particularly at the 12U level.