The Bandits Fastpitch softball team closed out its summer season on a high note.
Roosevelt's Faith Collar went 4 for 4 with a three-run homer, highlighting a 16-hit attack that helped carry the Bandits of Damascus to a 14-12 victory in eight innings over the California Firecrackers in the championship final of the July 16-20 Triple Crown World Series in Park City, Utah.
Clackamas' Maddy Stateler added a double and a three-run homer for the Bandits, who ran off nine consecutive wins over five days to claim top honors in a field of 56 16-and-under softball teams from Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Canada.
The final was tied 10-10 in the eighth inning when the Bandits sent eight batters to the plate and scored four runs on four hits, one sacrifice bunt, and a sacrifice fly.
Clackamas' Alexis Miles, Gresham's Sammie Staples, and Collar drove in the first three runs in the eighth with RBI-singles and Reynolds' Vanessa Smoke drove in the other run with a sacrifice fly to center that gave the Bandits a 14-10 lead.
The Firecrackers scored two runs in the bottom half of the eighth and had the potential tying runs in scoring position when Bandits pitcher Ailee Pederson of Franklin retired Natalie Yamane on a game-ending line out to shortstop.
"Those kids played their hearts out," Bandits coach Chad Stateler said. "It was definitely, without a doubt, an experience of a lifetime, not only for the players, but for the coaches and the parents, as well.
"The way the girls played all week was the way I have tried to get them to play for the last five years — with heart, integrity, compassion, and confidence. All summer long, we might be up by one or two runs in the bottom of the seventh or down by a run and we weren't winning those games. In Park City, we won all those tight games."
The Bandits won their first four games in pool play, opening with a 4-3 win over a team from California, followed by an 8-0 victory over a team from Idaho, a 7-5 win over a team from Utah, and an 8-2 win over a team from Colorado.
"You hear about a lot of the teams and you play against a lot of them in other tournaments," Stateler said. "When I saw the list of teams that were in our pool, I was like, 'Man, we can beat a lot of these teams.'
"Then I started thinking, if we could get through pool play undefeated, we had a shot at getting a pretty good draw."
In Game 5, the Bandits scored two runs in the sixth inning for a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Salt Lake (Utah) Pegasus. Emma Smith of The Dalles drove in the tying run with a single and then came around to score the go-ahead run on an error.
In Game 6, Oregon Blaze Gold of Beaverton scored two runs in the top of the seventh before the Bandits came back with three runs in the bottom half of the inning for a 7-6 win. Clackamas' Maddy Stateler delivered the walk-off hit — a one-out single that scored Smoke from third.
In Game 7, Clackamas' Ellie Martin hit a two-run triple to key a six-run third inning that helped lift the Bandits to a 7-3 come-from-behind win over the Northwest Vandals of Salem.
In the championship semifinals, Martin scored the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning and Franklin's Ailee Pederson struck out three of the four batters she faced in the bottom half of the inning, lifting the Bandits to a 7-6 win over USA Explosion of Meridian, Idaho.
After the Explosion scored a run in the seventh to make it 6-6, Martin started the eighth inning on second base, went to third on a Collar sacrifice bunt, and scored on an error to help send the Bandits into the championship final.
In the final, the Bandits got into a slugfest with the Firecrackers of Folsom, California, and took a 10-5 lead into the seventh inning when the Firecrackers scored five runs on five hits to tie it.
In the eighth, Gladstone's Maddie Brady started the inning on second base for the Bandits, went to third on Martin's bunt single, and scored the go-ahead run on another bunt single by Collar. Miles and Staples followed with RBI-singles and then Smoke hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Miles to give the Bandits a 14-10 lead.
The Firecrackers answered with Kinsey Erickson's RBI-single and Hailey Scott's RBI-double — both hits coming with two outs — but the two runners were left in scoring position when Yamane lined out to end the game.
"This summer went exactly as you would have hoped," Chad Stateler said. "You play decent the first few tournaments, and then every tournament after that you continue to get better and better and better, and then we peaked at the right time."
By the numbers
In nine tournament games, the Bandits outscored their opponents 64-38 and batted .400 (84 for 21) with 15 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, and 56 RBIs.
Collar batted a team-high .619 (13 for 21) with a double, three homers, and seven RBIs, Smith hit .455 (10 for 22), Stateler hit .434 (10 for 23), Smoke hit .413(12 for 29), and Martin batted .409 (9 for 22) with two doubles, a triple, two homers, and a team-high 13 RBIs.
On the mound, Pederson pitched in eight of the nine games and went 6-0 with a 3.85 ERA. In 40 innings pitched, she allowed 23 runs (22 earned runs) on 41 hits with 25 walks and 46 strikeouts. Collar pitched in four games and went 3-0 with a 4.67 ERA, while Miles threw a total of five innings in two games and earned one save.
The core group of Bandits players has been together since they were in the 10-and-under division, starting out as a Happy Valley recreational team.
"We had mostly an all-Clackamas roster in the beginning and then we started to get better and picked up a kid from here and a kid from there," Chad Stateler said. "Over the course of the last four or five years, we've turned into a highly-competitive, nationally-recognized team. It's been great.
"If you would have ever asked me if I thought we would win a tournament like Park City, there is no way I would have expected it. Most of the teams that win those tournaments are the teams from Southern California and Arizona that play 365 days a year."
So, what happened that it all came together for the Bandits in Park City?
"I think the key was our focus," the coach said. "There were no outside distractions and because we were traveling and the girls were spending so much time together, they played 100 percent as a team.
"You could see it in their actions. We had girls sliding into home and jumping up and fist-pumping and flexing their muscles and … I mean, they played with so much heart and emotion. It was everything I had always hoped for."
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