To'Ta' Warriors three-peat at NABI tournament
By Quentin Jodie
SCOTTSDALE, July 26, 2012
(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)
S ince 2010, the To'Ta' Warriors have strung together two championship wins at the annual Arizona Diamondbacks and Native American Baseball Invitational tournament.
Both times, the 15-and-under championship game was decided between them and the Top Dawgz.
Suffice to say, it was the Warriors who reign the tournament.
This year the current members moved up a division and competed in the Triple A class, which is for high-school students.
The Warriors came out on top as they defeated the New Mexico Roadrunners, 8-0, in the finals over the weekend.
But of the three title games, this one was the most difficult to win.
"The competition gets better and better every year," said To'Ta' ace pitcher Kyle Anulao, who was later named the tournament's most valuable player during an awards presentation at Chase Field.
"We see teams like the Mesa Indians and the Top Dawgz who want to beat us," he said. "And every year they want to knock us down."
And for the last two years they were up to the challenge, but as a relative newcomer to the high-school division, the Warriors experienced their first setback.
After winning their pool, the Warriors suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Roadrunners as the Albuquerque-based team scored the game-winning run on an error.
"It was tough because we had two outs on them," To'Ta' coach Bernard Sandoval said. "That was hard to lose like that because two of my players ran into each other and we overthrew the ball and they scored on us."
Nonetheless, they earned a spot on the tournament bracket and beat the Colorado River Braves, 14-2, in the semifinals while the Roadrunners got past the Mesa Indians by an 8-4 count.
Entering the championship game, the Warriors were given the opportunity to make things right.
"That lost hurt and it meant a lot to the guys but we used that as a motivation to take this tournament," Sandoval said.
So instead of doubting themselves, losing the championship game never entered the equation.
"When we lost that first game I don't think we were ready to play," To' Ta outfielder Austin Davis said. "We came out too slow, but we came in with the mindset that we want to three-peat."
After a scoreless first inning, the Warriors pounded out four hits in the bottom of the second with shortstop Lance Lee starting things off with a double in left field.
Third baseman Patrick Aspaas then hit an RBI single to center. Two batters later, catcher Elias Blackwater pounded out a triple to score Aspaas.
Right fielder Shayne Sandoval continued the rally with a single down the right foul line and brought in Blackwater as the Warriors led, 3-0.
The Warriors added another run in the fourth with Aspaas leading off with a single. He crossed home plate on a hit by Sandoval, who went 2-for-3 in the game as the seventh batter on the team.
"The beauty of this team is everyone can hit the ball," Sandoval said. "No matter where we go in the lineup everyone can hit and once they see one guy hit it in the gap, the next one wants to do it."
In other words they feed off each other.
"When we started to hit we just kept the momentum going," Davis said. "We finally started squaring up on some balls and I think it was the right time for us to start peaking for this tournament."
The hitting rampage continued for the next two innings as the Warriors added five more hits and finished the game with 14 hits. Aspaas led the way with a triple, two singles and 2 RBIs.
"You have to give them credit," said Roadrunners coach Joe Robledo of the Warriors. "Everybody battled, it was a good effort from both teams, but it was just one of those days where they got the hits and we didn't."
Robledo said he was pleased with how his boys competed, especially during pool play as they went 3-0.
"All the boys played hard and you know this will sting for awhile but we made some strides this year," he said. "And you know finishing second is a step up for us."
With a boatload of upcoming juniors and seniors, Robledo is hoping it'll be their time to shine next season.
Of course, they'll have to get through the Warriors to do that.
"We want four right now," Sandoval said "And you know it's going to be hard to do especially when you have teams that come in that are stacked. But my kids are up for the challenge."
The Warriors landed four players on the all-tourney team with Aspaas, Lee and Kennan Francis joining Anulao.
Other members included Felipe Beltran (New Mexico Roadrunners), Forrest McCook (NM Roadrunners), Savoy Harney (Mesa Indians), and Cordell Benson (Colorado River Braves).