by Matt Antonic
RICHARDSON, TX -- The sunny afternoon skies had given way to darkness, the field lights at Huffhines Park providing all the necessary illumination. With the game in the bottom of the sixth and the West Texas Thunder and Aledo Warstic all tied at 12 runs apiece, Thunder infielder Beto Navarte was just looking to get the winning run home from third any way he could.
Navarte made contact and lofted a fly ball to center field. Rylan Castillo waited for the catch and bolted down the line. The throw was strong but was offline as Castillo slid home with the winning run. The 12uD2 Thunder mobbed him at home to celebrate winning the Triple Crown Texas Season Opener tournament, defeating Warstic 13-12 in a thriller.
“I was just trying to get a base hit,” a smiling Navarte said after the game, “but I’m glad I made a good play.” Play could be used in the plural form if he was being fair to himself. The Thunder infielder logged a game high four RBIs on two hits and a walk.
He wasn’t the only one in the lineup putting in work. Every single player on the Odessa-based Thunder that came to the plate Sunday against Warstic reached base or drove in a run at least once. The team scored 52 runs in five games, giving the traveling parents and family members from West Texas plenty to cheer.
The Thunder sprayed balls all over the field, including some impressively timed hits as well. Shortstop Mason Vasquez launched a three run triple in the second inning that initially broke the game open. Castillo and Navarte smacked back-to-back doubles in the third after Warstic had responded. It’s a dynamic lineup that will inspire confidence all season long.
After nearly three hours of championship game play and five total games on the weekend, it was the Thunder that found themselves being presented with the winning plaque in the postgame ceremony. Jubilant parents held cameras and directed photography poses like orchestra conductors.
Despite the Thunder surrendering a five-run lead and allowing the tying run to score in the fifth inning on a passed ball, Thunder coach David Graham found far more positives to take away from the victory than negatives. “We work on bunt situations, baserunning, awareness and tagging up,” he said.
Baserunning and awareness came in crucial for the Thunder after Castillo legged out an infield single. An errant pickoff throw to first saw the ball roll down the first base line, allowing Castillo to advance to third as the winning run. “We work on bunt situations, baserunning, awareness and tagging up,” he said. “It ended up being a sacrifice fly to win the game. We just did a lot of those little things right.”
Graham wasn’t exaggerating the back-and-forth nature of the game. The Thunder bats were ringing all day long and powered the team to an 11-6 lead. Warstic smacked five hits in the top of the fifth inning and put five runs across the plate to tie the game. Warstic tied the game again in the top of the sixth. Despite the adversity, Thunder pitcher Caiden Orozco said his team’s belief never wavered. “I really thought we were going to win either way,” he said.
Orozco finished his day 3-for-4 at the plate while logging two innings of work on the mound. He certainly wasn’t the only one to pitch during the weekend. In the postgame ceremony, Thunder coaches called out each player’s name and positions for a brief moment of individual recognition, and proclaimed “pitcher” for the seven different players who threw over the span of just two days.
As parents snapped pictures with the winning players and victory banner, an excited Graham pointed out that his team had played five games during the weekend and still had enough to finish the job Sunday evening. “We would get a lead, they would get a lead,” he said. “We would come back and they would come back but they boys just never quit."