by Kyle Koso
MARIETTA, Ga. -- Having already done some good work at the plate Friday, Ewan Pantier had reason to feel confident when handed the ball to pitch in relief for his 10u Slammers-Nolte squad Friday at the US Club Nationals.
But when Pantier walked the first two batters he faced, the positives in the past were on the verge of disappearing, because the Lonestar Elite 10u were approaching fast in the rearview mirror.
Pantier muscled up and got three infield outs, then got through the final inning in tolerable shape as the Slammers slipped past Lonestar, 9-7, to advance in the 9u/10u championship bracket. With a win Saturday morning, Slammers-Nolte will be in the final and need just one more victory to leave Georgia with the US Club Nationals title.
Pantier had two doubles and two RBI; Gaige Cook had two hits, two runs and two RBI, and Travis Varela tripled in two runs as the Slammers took a 9-2 lead and held on as Lonestar nearly scratched its way back.
"I was looking to get on base, and help the team out because I really wanted to win this game. When I was pitching, I just had to breathe," Pantier said. "I had to find my center and throw strikes."
Lonestar jumped ahead 1-0 on a double from Gus Navejas that brought in Gatlin Wren, and Slammers came back with doubles from Juan Pablo Altamirano to tie it in the second inning, In the third, Slammers brought across six runs, with Cook punching a double on the first pitch thrown from Lonestar reliever Jaiden Fields.
No "take one to get a feel," no "work the reliever for a walk," just straight-up swinging by Cook.
"He kept on throwing strikes (in his warmup) every single time. I knew he was coming with a strike on the first pitch," Cook said. "I kept my mind in the game and kept hitting the ball. We've been in the winner's bracket here a couple times, so I'm not surprised."
Cade Wilson drove in a run for Lonestar in the fourth inning, the last in a four-run burst that tightened the game. In the bottom of the fifth, Wren reached after being hit by a pitch, and while he came around to score on a single from Navejas, the inning was kept under control on two great defensive plays from the Slammers. Easton Urban made a diving catch in right field for the first out, and catcher Kaden Hopkins (who drove in two runs on infield groundouts) tracked down a tricky foul popup to end the game.
"We work day in and day out to hit strikes; we don't go after first-pitch curveballs, we hit fastballs," said Slammers coach Mike Nolte. "They did a great job hitting fastballs. The crucial thing with 10u baseball is to stay calm, stay collected and not put any pressure on the boys. They did great, played as a team and had some hunger."