It’s going to take some doing to keep Aleshia Ocasio from finishing atop the Athletes Unlimited leaderboard.
Ocasio took a major step Sunday night toward sealing the deal as she took to the circle and helped pitch her Gold Team to a 5-1 victory over Team Eberle at Parkway Bank Sports Complex.
The matchup featured the players ranked 1-2 atop the leaderboard entering the day: Ocasio with 1,808 points and Carrie Eberle with 1,582.
Ocasio started and worked five shutout innings as she pitched scoreless ball for her third straight start before giving way to reliever Haylie Wagner.
Eberle began the game as the designated player before putting herself in the circle to start the third inning. She was fresh off a complete-game victory Saturday and wound up working three innings of relief and giving up five hits and three runs.
When the night was over, the top of the leaderboard looked like this: Ocasio (2,036 points), Team Orange captain Amanda Chidester (1,596), Eberle (1,588) and Team Gold second baseman Kelsey Stewart (1,572)
The final night of the 2021 Athletes Unlimited season takes place Monday, with Eberle’s team taking on Sahvanna Jaquish’s Purple team at 6 p.m. CT in the first game. That will be followed by Ocasio’s Team Gold taking on Team Orange at 9 p.m. CT.
Ocasio has been hesitant to talk about finishing first overall, but it’s hard to ignore the math now.
“When I think about it, I try to shy away from a little bit,” she said. “I get a little bit of anxiety just thinking about it. But pressure is also privilege, and I give all the credit to the teams that I’ve had, the teams that have produced. It’s been fun.”
Ocasio did admit it would be an honor to be crowned individual champion.
“It would mean a lot to me,” she said. “Going into the season, I didn’t think that I was going to be this close to obtaining Athletes Unlimited Champion. To have representation for little girls who look like me, being atop the leaderboard whether I win it or not tomorrow, I think is so important for them to be able to see me and know that they can do this – be an Athletes Unlimited champion, be a pro softball player and be able to reach all their goals, whether it’s in softball or in life, to be able to be a role model for those younger athletes.”
Ocasio’s teammates gave her some early run support. Jazmyn Jackson’s RBI single gave Gold a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. A two-run homer by Amana Sanchez highlighted a three-run third, which also included another run-scoring single by Jackson.
It was in interesting setup to the third. While Ocasio decided – after much consideration – to give herself the start in the circle – Eberle had Taylor McQuillin start as her team’s pitcher. After McQuillin gave up the run in the second, Eberle put herself in to pitch the third.
She got Gwen Svekis to pop out but then walked Erika Piancastelli before Sanchez homered.
“I was just looking to attack,” said Sanchez, whose homer was her third of the season. She earned MVP 1 honors and 60 extra points. “I didn’t come through in the first inning. I had a plan of attack at something hard because I wanted nothing to do with her (Eberle’s) off-speed stuff. I stuck to my plan and got under the ball, and yeah, it just went over.”
Ocasio said she drafts players who can play defense, and Jackson did just that in the fifth, when she cut down Victoria Hayward at the plate as Hayward tried to score on a single to right by Anissa Urtez.
Team Eberle got a run in the top of the seventh to come within 4-1. Even though victory was assured for Team Ocasio, the teams played the bottom of the seventh because rollover innings points were at stake. Three errors by Team Eberle allowed Team Ocasio to score a run and take home all 70 innings points in the end as well as 50 for the team victory.
Ocasio took home 40 extra points for MVP 2 honors, with Hayward winning MVP 3 and 20 points. For her teammates, Ocasio has proved to be a popular captain.
“She’s probably my favorite captain, and I’ve been able to be on her team three weeks in a row,” Sanchez said. “It’s just been a very free atmosphere, and it’s easy to play for someone (like that). I would run through a wall for her, and I think she put together a really good team. She just makes you feel really comfortable in your environment, and it’s easy to be successful when you have a captain like that.”
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