COLORADO SPRINGS – The Ohio Warhawks will be returning home with more cargo than they packed.
That’s because each of the players and coaches now have championship trophies after winning the inaugural Pathway Games crown at Security Service Field (Sky Sox Stadium) on Saturday afternoon.
The Warhawks (Springfield, Ohio) completed their mission by edging previously undefeated Slammers-Martin (Centennial, Colorado), 6-5 in the 18u baseball tournament’s title game.
“This was our goal coming into it. When we wear ‘Warhawks’ across our chests, it’s a rich tradition and we’re meant to win,” shortstop Ben Brooks said. “It’s a great feeling to come out of here with that championship win.”
Saturday’s victory was also a bit of revenge for the Warhawks, whose only defeat of the tournament was dealt by the same Slammers team just the day before in pool play, which determined bracket seeding.
Both squads then won their semifinal games earlier Saturday morning, setting up a rematch with the championship title on the line.
“Our kids had to understand that when a team beats you and you get a chance to play them again, you better show your pride, or you’re going home,” coach Ron Slusher said. “We’re going home with young men who used to be boys at the start of summer.”
The Warhwaks were led by a strong pitching performance from starter Danny Denz, a University of Memphis commit, and then helped along with effective offense.
Denz was nearly flawless through three of the four innings that he pitched, finishing with eight strikeouts and allowing just one hit until the Slammers finally found their offensive groove in the fourth frame.
“It was just confidence,” Denz said. “I came out and wanted to set the tone early to let them know that we mean business. I wanted to show my guys I could compete with them.”
While Denz kept his opponents silent, the Warhawks went to work on offense to build themselves a lead.
Brooks recorded his first of two RBIs in the third inning that scored teammate Gage Hughes (University of Cincinnati) for the game’s first run. Charley Welch, who is committed to the University of South Carolina, followed in the next at-bat with an RBI double that scored Houston Morrill.
The Warhawks kept things rolling in the fourth inning as Hughes, Jaylen Wilbon (University of Memphis) and Myles Christian (Middle Tennessee State) all crossed home plate to extend their lead to 5-0.
But the Slammers weren’t ready to let the championship game slip away. They exploded offensively in the bottom of the fourth, the final frame Denz threw, with five runs of their own to equalize the game.
The Slammers strung six hits together, all of which were singles but also good for multiple RBI. Brennan Dorighi and Brodie Mario both contributed an RBI single and one runs scored. Harris Williams connected on a two-RBI single that tied the game 5-5; Nick Merone, Justin Olson (University of Kentucky) and Jake Haze had one run and hit each.
“Some of these teams in this tournament really surprised me, by far,” Slusher said. “The Slammers have a great program. I mean, a really great program. They could play any tournament.”
After squandering their lead, the Warhawks went back to work late in the game to regain control. Reed Dickerson (Itawamba) hit a groundout in the sixth that scored Brooks for the game-winning run.
Slammers-Martin threatened in the ensuing half-inning by loading the bases, but a line drive to short was handled by Brooks to secure the Warhawks’ win.
“This team is filled with great ballplayers who know how to hit, defend, do it all – and we showed it today,” Brooks said. “The summer is still early, but this is definitely at the top for us right now.”