The South City Mudcats' Tommy Pagan dives into third base in the dramatic seventh inning of Monday Colt League championship. The Mudcats went on to fall 3-2 to Pacifica.
It was a game that was destined to end in a cloud of dust.
The Pacifica Colts have been playing them close all year. And Monday’s San Mateo County Colt League championship game was no different. Pacifica prevailed 3-2 over the South City Mudcats in a game of tactical small-ball which ended in a flourish to thrill the 150 fans on hand at San Bruno Park’s Lara Field.
With South City trailing by a run in its final at-bat, Tommy Pagan reached third base with one out on a wild pitch by Pacifica reliever Anthony Trujillo. But the right-handed Trujillo bore down — for the second time in as many innings — to induce two straight groundouts to strand Pagan at third, including the final out of the season in which first baseman Brendan Mauer nabbed a sharp grounder and beat Jesus Jimenez in a footrace to first to end it.
“[The ending] was pretty exciting,” Pacifica manager Manny Alonzo said. “We’ve been playing close games all year. All that hard work, it paid off in that one ground ball.”
The win marks Pacifica’s first Colt League championship in Alonzo’s six years at the helm of the 15 and 16-year-old summer-league squad. Pacifica last advanced to the championship game in 2011 only to lose 2-1 to San Bruno.
This year’s road to the championship was chock full of close games for Pacifica. After downing Burlingame 6-4 in the opening round of the playoffs June 23, Pacifica went on to defeat the South City Indians 4-2 June 26 to advance to Monday’s championship game.
“This group of kids, we’ve struggled with them all year trying to play defense,” Alonzo said. “But the one thing is they never quit … and the last three games we’ve peaked and started to play defense.”
Indeed, Pacifica committed just one error Monday. It proved costly as, with Pacifica leading 3-1 in the sixth, shortstop Will Brazil’s fielding error allowed Jimenez to reach base to lead off the inning. Jimenez scored from first when Mudcats cleanup hitter Raul Callero followed with an RBI double which split the gap in right-center.
But Trujillo emerged in relief to shut the door, recording two consecutive groundouts. Then with two outs, K.C. Blas walked on a 10-pitch at-bat and stole second. But Trujillo stranded the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position by notching his only strikeout of the game.
Trujillo saved it for Pacifica starting pitcher Matt Lavorini, who went five-plus innings to earn the win.
Mudcats left-hander Nico Delgado took the loss, allowing two runs through five-plus innings. The southpaw got into trouble in the first, as Pacifica jumped on the board early. Brazil led off the game with a walk. Mills Notmeyer promptly bunted him to second. Then Felix Aberouette scorched an RBI single to center to score Brazil, giving Pacifica a 1-0 lead.
Lavorini followed with a double to put runners at second and third, but Delgado buckled down through the one-out jam to strand the pair. The lefty did not allow another runner to reach scoring position while he was on the hill.
Mudcats manager Brian Ghilarducci has been forced to manufacture pitching all season to compliment his slugging offense. But Delgado emerged with a big-game performance in the biggest game of the year.
“He was going to be on a short leash but he threw well and kept us in the game,” Ghilarducci said.
South City evened the score in the third. With one out, Mudcats leadoff man Ben Santana took an aggressive chance by taking two bases on a liner to right-center. The gamble paid off as, after Santana flew into second, he moved to third base on a groundout then scored on a solid RBI knock to center by Jimenez.
But Pacifica won by virtue of some tactical baseball in the sixth. Aberouette drew a leadoff walk to knock Delgado out of the game. Facing Jimenez in relief, Lavorini reached on an infield hit into the 5.5 hole. Mauer bunted both runners over. Then Nate Rumb — who had a modest 1 for 5 showing throughout the playoffs entering into the at-bat — lifted a clutch sacrifice fly to plate Aberouette.
“I was just relaxed and trying to get my pitch and drive it in the outfield. When I did, it drove in a run,” Rumb said. “That was my best at-bat (of the year) for sure.”
Miguel Valbuena followed with a booming double to center to score Lavorini with a critical insurance run. Valbuena was 2 for 3 in the game, and hit .444 (4 for 9) throughout the playoffs. Lavorini was 3 for 4 in Monday’s championship finale.
The loss by the Mudcats, who came in with a chance to repeat as Colt League champs, ends a prominent run for South City teams. With two teams in the Colt League, the Industrial City has twice staked its claim to the league title in recent years. In 2013, the Mudcats won an all-South City championship game against the Indians. In 2012, the Indians won the crown.
“We had a great season this year,” Pagan said. “We couldn’t come up on top. We just fell short.”