COOPER CITY — No matter the sport or the tournament, trying to win championships coming out of the losers’ bracket is not easy.
That’s what three Seminole teams learned the hard way at the Native American Youth Organization baseball and softball tournament.
The Seminole 8U, 15U and 17U softball teams advanced the furthest of any team from the Tribe by reaching the championship phase in their divisions. Each emerged from the losers’ side, but championships eluded them at the tournament held July 19-21 in Cooper City and Hollywood.
Hosted by the Seminole Tribe’s Recreation Department, the double-elimination tournament drew nearly 60 teams from the five tribes that comprise NAYO: the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (N.C.), Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Poarch Creek Indians (Ala.) and Seneca Nation of Indians (N.Y.). Most of the games were played at Brian Piccolo Sports Complex; the younger softball divisions played at Osceola Park on the Hollywood Reservation.
The 8U Seminoles softball team, coached by Dallas Nunez, won three games in the tournament, including a 14-13 thriller against Dirt Divas to get into the championship in Hollywood. Joleyne Nunez blasted an inside-the-park home run for the Seminoles. The Mississippi Sparks, who handed the Seminoles their first loss in the morning, captured the title with an 11-7 win in the championship.
The 15U Seminoles, coached by Kelly Smiley, played some games that were chock full of intensity, including a Friday night thriller when they edged Xtreme by one run. Xtreme had the tying run on third base in its final at-bat when catcher Elle Thomas saved the day for the Seminoles. An Xtreme batter hit a short squibbler in front of the plate and Thomas picked it up and made a tough throw to first to notch the clinching out.
The following day the Seminoles made sure the “if needed” game was needed with an impressive win against Poarch Creek in the morning. Winning pitcher Ava Nunez was solid in the circle and helped her own cause by blasting a two-run home run. Mallorie Thomas had a two-run single.
In the afternoon winner-take-all final, Poarch Creek rallied from a late 5-2 deficit to win 6-5. A two-run walk-off double by Hannah Newsome brought home the winning run. Before Newsome’s hit, a controversial obstruction call on the third base line went against the Seminoles and brought home a run. The Seminoles were led by shortstop Julia Smith who had a single, two walks and scored the game’s first run. Keira French had an RBI groundout.
“My girls did awesome. They fought hard all day. I couldn’t ask for a better team,” Smiley said. “Everyone worked hard. Everyone played their position. They came and did their job.”
The Seminoles’ 15U should be strong again next year since only a few players have to move up to 17U.
J-Cross, a 17U team featuring some of the Seminoles’ top high school players, was organized and coached by Moses Jumper Jr. J-Cross, named after Moses’ cattle brand, lost its tournament opener to Mississippi Sparks, but then reeled off two wins in the losers’ bracket to earn a rematch with the Sparks in the final. J-Cross struggled on offense as the Sparks emerged with a 7-2 win to claim the championship.
“I thought we did great,” Jumper said. “We were in the losers’ bracket. They just have an overpowering pitcher, probably one of the best pitchers in that part of Mississippi. We sure didn’t hit her.”
J-Cross had plenty of talent on its roster, including state champions Budha Jumper (American Heritage) and Amya Baxley (John Carroll) and Sunni Bearden, who led Moore Haven to district and regional championships in her career with the Terriers.
“I wanted to make a good impression in Florida for the Seminoles, which I think we did,” said Jumper, whose family had plenty of representation on the squad with granddaughters Budha, Canaan and Jacee playing, and sons Josh and Naha and granddaughter Ahnie, who plays for Florida Gulf Coast University, serving as assistant coaches.
The Seminoles Squad 15U girls, from Immokalee, didn’t win the championship, but they still stood out thanks to their colorful teal and pink uniforms. The Squad had perhaps the youngest squad in the division with some 12 year olds playing up, including their pitcher, catcher and shortstop. The experience playing up a level should pay off at future NAYOs.
“We have a lot of young girls. A lot of them will be coming back,” said coach Eric Grimaldo. “We’ll be better next year. It was a good experience for them. They know what to expect.”
In baseball, the Seminoles 12U squad had the best showing for the Tribe. The Seminoles won their first two games against Prodigy and Diamond Dawgs before dropping consecutive games against Poarch Creek and Prodigy in a rematch.
The Seminole 17U squad played two outstanding games, but came up on the short end both times with one-run losses, including a 4-3 setback in nine innings against Poarch Creek in a weather-delayed marathon that started at 3 p.m. and ended at 9 p.m. It wouldn’t be a NAYO tournament without an interruption from Mother Nature.
The Seminoles started strong in the first inning when Ozzy Osceola drilled an RBI double that scored Lucas Osceola. Later, Silas Madrigal ripped an RBI single to left.
Poarch Creek scored a late run to knot the game at 3-3 and had the bases loaded, but Seminoles pitcher Kaden Grimaldo came back from a 3-1 count to notch a strikeout that ended the tension-filled inning.
Another lengthy delay followed as the sides debated whether to play extra innings as a Kansas City tie-breaker by placing a runner at second base to start innings, but eventually the decision was to keep playing as normal.
In the ninth, the Seminoles had two runners on as Madrigal and Ivess Baker drew walks, but couldn’t get them home. Poarch Creek pushed across a run in the bottom of the inning to advance.
The opener for the Seminoles’ 8U coach-pitch team featured plenty of offense as Ross Jones hit a home run.
Overall, the home field advantage for Seminole teams in the tournament didn’t translate to winning championships. The Seminoles, who had teams in all divisions except 15U baseball, were shut out as the Choctaws won six championships, Poarch Creek won three and Cherokee won one.
2018 NAYO baseball and softball tournament
U8 – Mississippi Sparks (Choctaw)
U10 – BC Impact (Choctaw)
U12 – NC Elite (Choctaw)
U15 – Poarch Creek
U17 – Mississippi Sparks (Choctaw)
U8 – Code Red (Choctaw)
U10 – Poarch Creek
U12 – Poarch Creek
U15 – 7 Clans (Cherokee)
U17 – MBCI (Choctaw)