FARGO-Zack Pierce has been playing fastpitch softball since he was 4 years old in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The 22-year-old first stepped in the pitcher's circle at 14 years old. To him, the circle is more like a spotlight, and that's where he loves to shine.
"You're main stage," Pierce said. "You're right in the center, you're always involved in the play. Everything you do is in the game. It's a lot of pressure, but I like pressure."
Pierce was nearly untouchable in CR Bartels Farms' (Portland, Ore.) run to a AA Major title in the North American Fastpitch Association World Series at Northside Softball Complex on Friday, Aug. 11. In the tournament, he was 3-0 with 41 strikeouts in 22 innings, giving up two earned runs. He capped the tournament with four shutout innings, to lead CR Bartels Farms to an 11-0 four-inning win in the title game against the Summerside Eagles of Prince Edward Island of Canada.
"You have to put training in the offseason to get here," Pierce said. "Pitching in the winter, it helps out when you pitch a lot. A lot of work goes into this."
Pierce and company made it look easy on Friday. Darin Michael opened the scoring with a single in the top of the second. A wild throw by the Eagles on a double-play attempt plated another to make it 2-0, and Nick Green worked a walk with the bases loaded to make it 3-0.
CR Bartels Farms busted it open in the top of the third, sending 10 guys to the plate and scoring seven runs. Tom Crouch's triple and Matt Christianson's single each plated one. Four batters later, Tony Gonzalez knocked in a pair with a single, and Green delivered the crushing blow with a three-run homer. Green was looking for a changeup and got it.
"We've won this division three out of the last four years," Green said. "We lost last year, so we came back to win it. We fell apart last year. We didn't play well. We carried a big roster, we had some injuries, we just didn't play good as a team. We wanted to come back and win it."
One run was more than enough for Pierce, who retired the first nine batters he saw. In the bottom of the fourth, Pierce gave up a double and a single to open up the frame, but struck out the next three batters to lock up the championship.
"It felt like everything was pretty good," Pierce said. "Riseball was getting in the zone and just jumping a little bit more out, dropball felt nice, changeup was working when it needed to. Everything was working.
"I was just throwing the ball (in the last inning), trying to get through the inning, and they started getting hits. At the very end, I wanted to start going hard again and fire it up."