Lightning delayed a portion of Pathway Games Albuquerque on Monday afternoon. It didn’t bother Premier West 16’s, though, as the Colorado-based crew moved past Elite Baseball, 10-2, earning a spot in the 2021/2022 semifinals on Tuesday.
“It’s quite early in the Summer for this squad and I don’t think we’re quite where we need to be yet,” explained head coach Derek Hines. “The best thing is, we have such good parts, there’s no individual stuff on this team.
“I’ve been teaching this group effort thing and they’ve been doing a great job of buying in and playing their game.”
Premier’s dominance began on the mound with Morgan Picket. Though Pickett would surrender runs a pair of runs in the fourth inning, he also struck out seven and dialed up three 1-2-3 innings.
“I only threw two curveballs all day,” said Pickett. “My two-seam fastball was blowing by kids all day. When they did make contact, they fouled it off. I only gave up a couple of hits and a couple of walks. Overall, it was a pretty good turnout.”
Offensively, it was Pickett who got the ball rolling in the bottom of the first inning. His leadoff walk led to the game’s first run, a common theme for Premier all game long. In fact, in four of five innings, Premier’s leadoff batter reached on a walk, hit-by-pitch or a base hit. Premier tallied six walks in total on the afternoon.
“Our coaches challenged us to have better approaches at the plate,” said Elias Fiddler. “We needed to get better today and it paid off.”
Fiddler’s patience paid dividends for Premier. Even though he didn’t record a hit until the fifth inning, he earned RBI in the second and fourth innings with a groundout and hit-by-pitch, respectively, and topped off his 1-2 performance with a two-RBI triple in the fifth.
“I took a couple of more pitches in each at-bat,” Fiddler said. “After a while, I started seeing the ball well and having a better overall approach at the plate.”
Elite got on the board with a pair of runs in the top half of the fourth inning. Ben Leiphart’s double, combined with Nate Hirsh’s single tied the game before lightning delayed the contest for 30 minutes.
Out of the break, Premier appeared focused and energized. Premier’s first five batters all reached safely, leading to five runs, including RBI from Fiddler, Pickett, Alan Duty and Grant Gabbert.
“Before today, we hadn’t experienced much adversity as a group yet,” said Hines. “We had our little lightning delay and I challenge our guys to remain focused and not get distracted by their phones or social media during the break.
“I thought after the stoppage we were a little better and we got a couple of runs right away because of it.”
Now pitching with a five-run lead, Pickett continued to his fine form on the mound. Alongside his seven-strikeout performance, he also relied on defense for eight putouts.
“It’s only my fourth time playing with this team,” Pickett said. “It’s incredible to play with such talented teammates who always back you up by making great plays.”
“I love stealing strikes for [Picket],” said catcher Hayes Edens. “If I can make sure he’s smiling, having fun and not taking each moment too seriously, I know he’ll get into his groove.”
Premier’s victory vaults them into the 16u semifinals against Catamount Baseball Gold. The matchup is set for 10:20 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
“We’re in a good mindset right now,” said Edens. “We’ll sleep in late, show up ready to play like we normally do and go play our brand of baseball.”