Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
South City’s Tyler Keahi strokes a two-run triple in the top of the eighth inning of the
Warriors’ 3-1, eight-inning win over San Mateo, which clinches the Lake Division title for the Warriors, earns them a spot in the PAL tournament and an automatic berth into CCS.
With two gutsy pitching performances that saw both starters last into the eighth inning, you couldn’t script a better game for all the marbles than the Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division showdown Thursday between South City and San Mateo.
In the end, it was one epic swing of the bat by South City’s Tyler Keahi that settled the score, as the senior smoked a two-run triple to left in the eighth inning to propel the Warriors to a 3-1 victory.
With the win, undefeated South City (11-0 in Lake Division, 14-12 overall) clinches the PAL Lake Division title by virtue of handing San Mateo (8-2, 11-13) its second league loss of the year. The Warriors previously downed the Bearcats 10-7 on April 8.
“Right now, I think the game could still be going on,” South City manager Jesse Velez said following the victory. “Because I think this game was a little bit of luck.
The Warriors benefitted from their share of luck, including one of the strangest plays of the year in the bottom of the seventh. With the game on the line, San Mateo had two on with one out. But with a 2-2 count on the Bearcats batter, he mistakenly thought the count was 3-2. So, in taking ball three, the batter thought it was ball four and started jogging to first base. When he did, the runner at first base began heading to second base, only to get caught in a panic when South City catcher Alfredo Olguin threw behind him for the second out of the inning.
“To be honest, I don’t think anybody knew the count,” San Mateo manager Nick Sanzeri said. “The scoreboard … it must have read 3-2. The batter, he started running down the line and at that point it got crazy.”
South City starting pitcher Jesus Jimenez capitalized on the miscue by striking out the San Mateo batter on the next pitch to retire the side and force extra innings.
Jimenez continued his dominance of the Lake Division, working 7 1/3 innings to earn the win, improving to 5-2 overall with a 1.97 ERA. And the ballgame was just the first leg of an unorthodox doubleheader for the junior, who dashed out of the dugout immediately following the big win to attend the final dressed rehearsal for his high school dance class which opens a performance of Ballet Folklorico Friday.
But South City’s ace right-hander didn’t miss a beat on the mound, which San Mateo countered with left-hander Sergio Noriega, as the two locked up for a classic pitchers’ duel. Noriega went the distance in taking the loss. Noriega was strong into the eighth inning, retiring the first two batters of the inning before a pitch in the dirt nicked South City cleanup hitter Carlos Solis for a hit batsman to spark the game-winning rally.
Designated hitter Bryan Ortiz followed with a single. Then Keahi worked a 2-0 count and drilled a line drive to left field that flew over the glove of San Mateo’s left fielder.
“Honestly, I was just trying to get a pitch to hit, put it in play somewhere and make something happen,” Keahi said. “Fortunately I got a good piece and hit it over his head.”
Although Keahi scorched the ball, South City caught a break when San Mateo’s left fielder initially broke in on the ball.
“I think that ball over the left fielder, I think he misjudged it and it went over (his head) and that just opened the gate,” Velez said.
Both teams created their own luck in the middle innings, with each the Warriors and the Bearcats turning in excellent defensive plays to tab outs at home plate.
Amid a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third inning, San Mateo leadoff man Ryan Fujinaga drew a two-out walk. Fujinaga stole second then advanced to third on a single by Isaiah Todd-Fitzhugh. San Mateo then tried to steal a run on a wheel steal, but when Todd-Fitzhugh took off from first, South City executed to perfection by prolonging the rundown until Fujinaga committed to the plate, with first baseman Isaiah Soto gunning down the speedster on a bang-bang play at home.
San Mateo got on the board in the fourth after back-to-back singles by Joe Veglak and Malakai Clayton to leadoff the inning. After a sacrifice bunt by Noriega, Melvin Brown hit a foul pop-up behind first base which Soto caught with a diving grab. However, the catch allowed Veglak to score on a sacrifice fly.
In the fifth, South City tied it up. After a leadoff single by Juan Borrero, Nikki Solon laid down a sacrifice bunt but reached on an error. Olguin followed with a second bunt, but reached on an infield single when no one covered first base. But the Bearcats defense tightened up, gunning down Borrero at the plate on an infield grounder for the first out of the inning. After a walk to Mavricio Mabutas forced home Solon with the tying run, San Mateo turned an unconventional double play on a fly out to center by gunning down Olguin at the plate.
After South City took the lead in the eighth, Velez had a mind to remove Jimenez from the game going into the bottom of the frame. But the junior convinced his manager otherwise.
“Because he wanted it,” Velez said. “He said: ‘Don’t take me out, coach.’”
Jimenez recorded one out by nearly tackling his first baseman to catch a foul pop-up himself. Then after Fujinaga and Todd-Fitzhugh reached on back-to-back singles, Velez turned to his closer Solis to save it.
“Coming into it we knew it was going to be a pitchers’ duel,” Sanzeri said. “We knew it was going to be a two-run ballgame. So, it was awesome. Both guys did a great job. You’ve really got to tip your hat to their guy. That’s the second time he’s gone almost CG against us. He did a great job pounding the zone and made all the pitches when he needed to.”
After both South City and San Mateo spent 2013 middling in the lower Ocean Division, the PAL reformatted from two divisions to this year’s three-division format. With the Lake Division serving as the bottom division of the current three-tier system, it has fueled a spirited rivalry between South City and San Mateo.
“Last year we had a hard season,” Keahi said. “We were up in the other league with better competition, obviously. We’re down [in the Lake Division] now. But I think we’ve improved and I think it’s time for us to get out of here and show what we’ve got.”
With its PAL Lake Division championship, South City earns an automatic berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs beginning May 21.