Braves refocus and blast way to Coyotes Fourth of July Tournament Championship

Written by Bob on July 5th, 2011

The Pala Braves, 2011 Coyotes’ Fourth of July Tournament champions.

BEAUMONT, CA – The Pala Braves weren’t too pleased with their performance and they knew that if they didn’t improve – and quickly – a prestigious tournament championship was about to slip away.

So the Braves held a team meeting before the start of the “if necessary” game and went on to blast the Morongo Hostiles 14-0 to claim the championship of the 2011 35th Annual Coyotes Men’s Fourth of July Fastpitch Softball Tournament, Sunday, at Valdivia Field in Beaumont.

“We met between the games and we talked about getting back to playing fundamental fastpitch and quit swinging for the fences,” said Cody Maxcy, the Braves manager and catcher. “We got more patient waiting on pitches, and we played a lot smarter.”

But in that first game, the Hostiles were the better ball club, coming out on top 8-5 to force the if necessary game.

“The pitching and defense came through for us in that game,” said Hostiles manager and second baseman Ike Norte. “We just ran out of gas in the second game, but we played well, and this was our highest finish ever in the Coyotes’ tournament.”

In the second game, the Braves jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Theron Cueva and Maxcy led off with back-to-back walks, and Tommy Herrera was hit by a pitch. Then Chris Devers RBI single and Anthony Lofton’s infield ground out scored both runs. And that was all the run support Jerome Morrison would ultimately need as he tossed a four-inning mercy-ruled shutout to pick up the win.

Morrison allowed but one hit – a second inning double by Anthony Loza – in earning his third win of the tourney. Morrison pitched every inning of the tournament for Pala in leading the Braves to a 3-1 record, and was named the Most Valuable Pitcher for his efforts.

Although Morrison struggled a bit in the 8-5 loss to the Hostiles, he was a completely different pitcher in the “if necessary” game. A change in pitching strategy made all the difference.

“We started working the plate inside and out and we went away from the rise ball,” Maxcy said. “We went off speed and down ball more because they were hitting the rise ball in the first game.”

Pala Braves manager and catcher Cody Maxcy accepts the championship trophy from Coyotes’ Richard Soriano.

Morrison – just 30-years-old – and the workhorse of the pitching staff, said that jumping out to the big lead in the if necessary game helped him relax and throw his game.

Pala pitcher Jerome Morrison earned Most Valuable pitcher honors.

“The run support was great and I didn’t have to worry about making mistakes,” Morrison said. “My catcher (Maxcy) called a good game, and the defense played great behind me.”

After scoring two runs in the first, the Braves added two more in the second on an RBI triple by Cueva and an RBI single by Maxcy. But in the third inning, Pala really swung the bats, scoring eight times highlighted by Cueva’s grand-slam home run that hit high off the centerfield light pole.

The pitch?

“They had been pitching me away, but came inside,” Cueva said.

Pala outfielder Theron Cueva earned all-tourney honors.

Devers also went long ball in the inning with a two-run homer that plated Herrera. Herrera reached safely on a double, driving in Maxcy, who singled after Cueva’s bases-clearing blast.

The Braves championship run included an opening game 4-3 victory over a very good Dirtbags ball club from Colton. They followed that by holding off the San Bernardino Bombers 4-2 in the winners bracket final.

This was the first time the Braves have ever played in the Coyotes’ tournament, Maxcy said. But they will most likely return next year to defend their title.

“It felt great to just to be part of this tourney,” he said. “It’s weird because while we were playing our first game we heard the announcer say that it was the 35th year. All our guys were stunned that its been going on for that long. So to be a part of that tradition and winning it, is a great feeling.”

The Hostiles finished with a 5-2 record. They opened by beating the Soboba Beernuts. And then after losing to Pala in their second game, they won four in a row before finally being denied in the championship.

The Hostiles got great pitching from Anthony Loza, who pitched every game and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Infielders Gabe Leivas, Isaac Hardy, and Lou Martin were also named to the all-tournament team.

Martin was a catalyst in the win over Pala by blasting a three-run home run in the third inning that gave the Hostiles a 5-1 lead. Handed the big lead, Loza held off the Braves to pick up his fifth win.

But in the championship final, the right-hander who displayed good command of a rise, drop and change up, clearly had tired.

“Anthony is our horse and our backbone,” Norte said.

Anthony Loza was the workhorse for the Morongo Hostiles.

Cueva, Herrera and Devers from the Braves were also selected all-tourney, along with pitcher Randy Clay and the versatile George Valdivia from the fourth-place Coyotes. Gilbert Joiner and outfielder Marlon Campbell of the third-place Bombers also were selected all-tourney, with Joiner (2-2) pitching nearly every inning for the Bombers.

With the tournament championship, the Braves now turn to bigger ambitions: The 2011 International Softball Congress (ISC) World Tournament, Aug. 14-20, in the Quad Cities (Iowa and Illinois).

This will be an ISC first for Pala, and a national tournament the Braves are eagerly looking forward to after playing in another prestigious national tournament: the 2010 NAFA World Series.

The Braves qualified for the ISC World Tournament by winning the 2011 Best of The West Tournament in Santa Barbara in June.

“We are looking forward to the ISC,” Maxcy said, adding the Braves range in age from early 20s to mid-30s. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The Braves are primarily a Native American team from the Pala Reservation and Temecula area. Fastpitch has been a long-standing tradition on the reservation “since I can remember,” Maxcy said. “So as we got older, everyone just started playing for whatever reservation teams needed players. A lot of our guys’ family members played fastpitch – the dads, uncles, brothers, cousins, and friends.”

Come ISC World Tournament time, the Braves will have a fortified pitching staff that includes Sonny Perkins (a USA National Team member), Jason Iuli and Mark Manuelito.

And this young team has not shied away from stronger competition. For the past two years, they’ve played in the Open level “California Classic” tournament held in Santee, California. And this year they’re also playing in the Southern California Independent Fastpitch League, that has several top southern California teams competing.

“We have a lot of heart and we want to try and compete at the higher level,” Maxcy said.

The Coyotes Fourth of July All-Tournament team (with some members missing).

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