Sandlot Sisters finish strong to capture Finch 12U White championship

By DN WRITING STAFF | April 23, 2024

By Sean Reilly

The Sandlot Sisters 12U came from Pennsylvania to Diamond Nation over the weekend hoping to challenge for a championship at Jennie Finch’s 12U Spring Invitational. 

Those chances were placed in immediate peril, when its first of three pool games on Saturday resulted in a 5-3 loss to PA Strikers 2K12. 

Registering an 0-1 record while many teams were still sleeping could certainly be considered an ominous development. 

But the Sandlot Sisters bounced back with a morning victory, followed by another in the afternoon. 

That showing earned Sandlot the sixth seed in Sunday’s 20-team playoff bracket. Once there, the wins kept coming. 

Three Sunday victories in all catapulted Sandlot into the afternoon championship against the top-seeded Connecticut Lightning (6-0).

Once again, Sandlot Sisters defied the odds, by going extra innings to earn the title with an 8-2 victory.

After allowing the tying run to score on a wild pitch with two out in the bottom of the fifth, Sandlot took advantage of the international tiebreaker (the inning starts with the bases loaded and one out) to score six times in the seventh.

Ava Thomas then pitched a clean bottom of the inning to close out the win and send her team into a frenzy.

Ainsley Lear, who hit a two-run triple in the first inning and also pitched the first four innings, shared tournament MVP honors with Thomas. 

“The weekend was amazing,” Lear said. “We lost the first game, but it got us pumped for the rest. It showed that we’re a good team, and that we’re really good at working together. Even when we go through the ups and downs, we still know how to get through them.” 

Sandlot, which finished an impressive 6-1 with a 46-21 run differential, got its two regulation runs in the championship game from its first two batters of the game.

Iz Kruski led off with a walk, moved to second on a wild pitch and stole third before Lydia Luvender walked and stole second. 

Lear was up next, and she hit a hard liner over the head of the first baseman and down the right field line for a two-run triple. Sandlot’s next two batters also reached, but the Lightning allowed no additional damage.

Ava Thomas and Ainsley Lear and were named co-MVPs of the 12U White Finch’s Spring Invitational.

The Lightning got a run back in the second inning, when Josie Tomkunas and Alexis Fortin singled, and Paige Kovach delivered an RBI infield hit to shortstop. 

The Lightning tied it in the fifth. Kovach, the catcher, led off by reaching on an error and was replaced by courtesy runner Abby Lockwood. Emma Fiedler drew a walk, and a sacrifice bunt by Ruby Binder moved the runners to second and third.

With the infield playing in, the next batter popped out to second base. A change up from Thomas then bounced in front of the plate for a wild pitch that brought in the tying run and sent the other runner to third base. Thomas, however, beared down nicely for a strikeout that maintained the 2-2 tie.

Neither side scored in the sixth, so the game went to the tiebreaker format in the seventh. 

Natalie McAndrew led off for Sandlot, and she drew an RBI walk. Thomas followed with an RBI single to shortstop for a 4-2 score. After a strikeout for the second out, Liv Distasio hit a low-arcing ball toward shallow right field. The backpedaling second baseman ranged over and made an outstretched  lunge, but the ball ticked off her glove and deflected further toward the foul line. It resulted in a two-run double and 6-2 lead. Mika Few then singled past shortstop to bring in two more for the six-run lead. 

In the bottom of the inning, the Lightning’s leadoff batter lined out to third baseman Sara Basile for the second out. The next batter grounded to Basile, who stepped on third for a game-ending force out. 

“I know my defense has my back,” Thomas said. “I’ve been playing with them for so long, since I was six years old.” 

The huge top of the seventh inning, fueled by her own hit, made pitching the bottom of the inning a much easier proposition. 

“That was great,” she said. “Last year, we lost our first game in the playoffs, so this was great. It was really fun to come back and win this.”

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