BOULDER — Thanks to the clutch at-bats of power hitter Stefanni LaJeunesse, the San Gabriel Valley Velocity out of California can call themselves softball champions.
The Velocity, fueled by LaJeunesse’s three-run homer and four RBIs, bested the DeMarini Zephyrs, from the Kansas City area, in a close 6-4 battle to become 18-Under Louisville bracket champions of the Independence Day softball tournament held at Stazio Fields.
LaJeunesse, who had been playing with an injured foot the entire week, came through for her team in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded and the game tied. LaJeunesse grounded out, but drove in a run to recapture the lead. The Velocity had squandered a comfortable 4-0 lead earlier in the game by surrendering a grand slam to Joselynn Dean in the fourth.
LaJeunesse was excited to get the run across, but admitted her swing was off.
“I felt like it wasn’t a good hit. My weight was forward,” she said. “I was like ‘Oh my god, no!'”
There was no doubt earlier on in the 3rd inning when LaJeunesse hit a towering home run over the left field fence.
“I was just looking for a base hit to be honest,” she said. “I went in there relaxed, waited for my pitch and just drove it.”According to Velocity head coach Mark Shuster, this type of stellar performance from LaJeunesse was business as usual this week.
“She’s had a remarkable tournament. She’s hit close to .600,” he said. “She’s been an absolute clutch player.”
When it came to crucial at-bats at key moments in the tournament, Shuster said he could count on LaJeunesse to come through. She also drove in the go-ahead run in the semifinal game. Shuster said her value doesn’t just reside in her powerful swing, but it can be found in her speed down the basepath as well.
“She has been somebody that ignites our offense because defenses don’t know how to play her,” Shuster said. “They’ll play deep looking at her size, and she’ll lay down bunts and beat them out.”
Velocity pitcher Lauren Cox came in in relief for starter Meagan Lively and pitched the final two innings for the win, striking out the last two batters.
“I knew what my job was,” Cox said. “It was just to hold the runners and make sure and get the outs and not focus on strikeouts.
Cox kept cool under pressure and didn’t allow a runner past first base in either inning.
“You really have to dig deep,” she said. “Sometimes you get ahead of yourself and let the anxiety get to you and that’s when you start to over throw.”
After the final strike, Cox and the rest of the team burst into celebration.
The Velocity and the other teams that finished in the top six in the Louisville bracket, earned an automatic bid into the tougher Boulder bracket in next year’s tournament. But Shuster said that while his team enjoyed this year’s win, it is unlikely they will return next year. LaJeunesse will play for the University of Wisconsin next season, and according to Shuster, the other 18 girls on the team are lined up play college softball in the next year or two. For now, the team can just enjoy the win and returning home.
“My wife, Mrs. Shuster, would now like me home on the weekends,” Shuster said.
San Gabriel Valley Velocity 6, DeMarini Zephyrs 4
At Stazio Fields
Zephyrs 000 400 — 4 8 1
Velocity 013 02x — 6 5 0
W — Cox. L — Novak.
Zephyrs hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Stokes 4-1-2-0, H. Hansel 3-1-1-0, Dean 4-1-2-4, Heese 2-0-0-0, Taylor 2-0-1-0, C. Land 2-0-0-0, M. Land 2-0-2-0, Searcy 1-0-0-0, M. Hansel 0-0-0-0, Douglass 2-1-0-0. Totals 21-4-8-4. HR — Dean (grand slam in 4th).
Velocity hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Watanabe 3-2-2-1, Schultz 2-0-0-0, Schroeder 2-1-0-0, LaJeunesse 3-2-2-4, Cheek 2-0-0-0, Costa 1-0-0-0, Maciel 2-0-0-0, Villalpando 2-0-1-1, McWilliams 2-0-0-0, Rodriguez 1-0-0-0, Honer 0-1-0-0. Totals 16-6-5-5. 2B — Watanabe, Villalpando.
Zephyrs pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Novak 5-5-6-6-2-6.
Velocity pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) –Lively 4-6-4-4-3-3, Cox 2-2-0-0-0-2.