Peng walks it off to lift NWDS to 14u D1 SlumpBuster semis

June 22, 2024

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Ethan Peng didn’t even think he’d get one more at-bat. So when his opponent intentionally walked not one, but two batters to load the bases — reality set it.

It was all up to him.

And if you’d ask him, he was scared. But only for a moment.

“I didn’t think I was going to get it done,” Peng said.

With his Northwest Diamond Sports locked in a 7-7 tie in the Omaha Slumpbuster 14u D1 championship bracket, Peng hit a hard groundball through the right side of the infield to score the game-winning run and lift No. 2 NWDS to a 9-8 victory over No. 7 Dallas Tigers on Saturday afternoon at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex.

“I just had to keep it simple and hit it the other way, and got it done to win us the game,” Peng said.

NWDS coach Jose Cepeda wasn’t surprised the Tigers intentionally walked his No. 5 and 6 hitters to force Peng to the plate. But he also wasn’t surprised to see Peng come through.

“I liked that they did that because I know that Ethan likes hitting it through the four-hole,” he said. “Ethan stays inside the ball and that’s all we needed right there. His approach has changed and he’s worked hard. He’s swinging it very well the last two weeks.”

The dramatic walk-off victory catapulted the Oregon-based squad to Sunday’s semifinal round, pitting NWDS against No. 3 Elevate NW at the Zorinksy fields. The other semifinal in the D1 bracket will see the No. 16 Nebraska Prospects 2028, which upset top-seeded 303 Burn Baseball and No. 9 USA Prime NW Red on Saturday, face off against No. 4 Sierra Nevada Wolves.

After hanging 41 total runs — averaging just over 13.5 per game — in a perfect 3-0 pool play, NWDS didn’t let up with the bats Saturday morning with a 10-1 win over the NBA Titans Blue.

“It’s fun when the kids come together and execute,” Cepeda said. “You just have to learn when things happen and when you get hit in the mouth, you got to bounce back. And they did that. That’s the most important thing.”

The hot NWDS bats continued against the Dallas Tigers in the quarterfinals, as NWDS jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and responded to the Tigers’ 2-spot in the bottom half of the first with a five-run second for a 7-2 lead. The Tigers got one back in the third, but then, for the first time all tournament, the NWDS bats stalled as both teams put up three full innings of goose eggs until the game-changing seventh inning.

The Tigers, fighting for their tournament lives, clawed back with four runs courtesy of a trio of singles — from Weston Goetz, Jack O’Connor and Cason Ray — and four straight walks to tie things up at 7-all. The contest was headed for extras after NWDS left three on base in the bottom of the seventh.

With a runner placed on second to start the eighth, the Tigers used a Ray RBI single to take their first lead of the game at 8-7. NWDS pitcher Levi Hines, meanwhile, limited the damage to one run before his squad had a crack at the win.

In the final frame, NWDS’s Tyler Holmes doubled in the game-tying run to left field before a groundout and two intentional walks proceeded Peng taking the center stage.

Cool as can be, Peng saw a fastball headed for the outside part of the plate and calmly deposited it through the right side of the infield, which was playing in to try and prevent Holmes from scoring.

Before taking any credit for the key hit, Peng mentioned his confidence in his teammates.

“I think any one of our guys could’ve gotten the job done because we’re all great hitters,” he said. “We’ve been hitting the ball really well. We’ve kept it short and sweet with our swings and it’s working. We just try to stay locked in and be ready for the moment. We’re a focused group and we’re ready.”

Just like his coach likes it.

“We’re not trying to do too much,” Cepeda said. “When we scored the seventh run, we kind of went away from that (approach), and that’s when we play our best. … “They just know how to win. We’re never out of it because we can hit.”

On the win overall, Cepeda was pleased. And then some. Because even as his squad is new to the Omaha Slumpbuster, he knows the value of getting to Championship Sunday.

“It’s exciting because that’s what we came here for. It’s a big trip for us coming here from the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “We don’t leave until Monday no matter what, so we need to play. We’re excited to play at least one more time.”