Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
Shane Hawkins is mobbed by his teammates after a solo bomb during Pacifica American’s 8-5 win over Belmont-Redwood Shores.
Pacifica American is the only unbeaten team remaining in the District 52 Majors Tournament.
With Saturday’s 8-5 semifinal victory over Belmont-Redwood Shores at Red Morton Park, Pacifica is one win away from the Section 3 tourney. It is familiar territory for the team which won the section crown in 2012 as 10-year-olds. With a return well within their sights, and the squad having outscored opponents 62-13 through four games, the thought of Pacifica being a contender for a run at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania is fast becoming a reality.
“I definitely think they’re well aware of that,” Pacifica manager Steve Falk said.
Coach Falk isn’t allowing his players to get ahead of themselves though. The usually straightforward manager is quite guarded at the mention of Williamsport. Instead, he seems more mindful of the task at hand. And at present, the task is Tuesday’s final-round matchup with one of San Mateo American, Palo Alto American or Belmont-Redwood Shores.
“Our district is one of the toughest districts to get out of,” Coach Falk said. “There are five or six teams who can win it. So, it’s more important to win our district … and our team has a chance to win it three (consecutive) times, which is special.”
In Saturday’s win, Pacifica relied on its usual timely hitting. But the pitching matchup between Pacifica right-hander Christian Falk and Belmont-Redwood Shores left-hander Drew Dowd was particularly intriguing.
Falk dazzled through 3 2/3 innings to earn the win. He was relentless to the strike zone, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out eight, and needing just 53 pitches to do so. Dowd, for the most part, kept pace. While the southpaw got touched for three runs through 3 2/3 innings, he struck out eight on 67 pitches while holding the top four hitters in Pacifica’s order to a 1-for-7 day.
“For what this team has done in the past … we’re going to see everybody’s top pitchers across the board,” Coach Falk said. “But we’re going to find a way to manufacture runs. A run here, a run there, it adds up.”
Indeed, Pacifica got to Dowd by utilizing the bottom half of its batting order.
In the second, No. 5-hitter Andrew Harkness led of the inning with a solid single to right. Chris Rodriguez followed with a knock to move pinch runner Mateo Jimenez to third. With one out, Spencer Karalus singled home Jimenez to get Pacifica on the board. After Pacifica loaded the bases on a single by No. 9-hitter Tyler Shaw, Elijah Ricks came through with a clutch two-out single to score Rodriguez, giving Pacifica a 2-0 lead.
In the fourth, Pacifica flashed its patented power when Shane Hawkins — subbing into the No. 8 spot in the order — launched an opposite-field home run to right. It was the 17th home run hit by Pacifica through the tournament, but the only one of the game.
“Every game, we’re not depending on our big hitters,” Coach Falk said. “The bottom of our order has been getting on and doing their job. Rolling our order over and setting it up for our big hitters, it’s a big deal.”
Belmont-Redwood Shores got on the board in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Daylin McLemore, Ben Fong and Aidan Feeley had three straight singles to load the bases. Then with Ricks entering in relief of Falk, a wild pitch allowed McLemore to score, closing Pacifica’s lead to 3-1.
But Pacifica got it back, and then some, with two runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Facing the Belmont-Redwood Shores bullpen, Pacifica loaded the bases before Rodriguez walked to force home Falk. Then Nate Azzopardi singled home Justice Turner, giving Pacifica a 5-1 lead.
In the sixth, Shaw led off with a walk and Cruise Thompson singled. Shaw advanced to third on a fly out by Ricks. Falk followed with a sacrifice fly. Harkness and Rodriguez then produced back-to-back RBI singles, extending Pacifica’s lead to 8-1.
The insurance runs loomed large as Belmont-Redwood Shores scored four times in the bottom of the sixth. McLemore led off with a walk. Fong switched places with him on a fielder’s choice. Feeley singled. And Tyler McCabe singled to score McLemore. With two outs, Logan Snow walked to load the bases. Then A.J. Paterra came through with an RBI single to score Feeley. Dowd capped the day’s scoring with a two-run double to score McCabe and Snow.
Rodriguez entered in relief of Ricks in the sixth to save it.
The benefit of Falk’s efficient outing is he will be available for full pitching duty Tuesday and, if necessary, Wednesday. With an 85-pitch limit per week on Majors pitchers, Falk’s pitch count would have rolled over from Saturday had he surpassed the 50-pitch limit. But because he had less than 50 pitches going into the last at-bat of his outing, his pitch count qualifies as a relief outing and resets after two off-days, according to Coach Falk.
“We have all our pitching going into Tuesday and we have to be beat twice,” Coach Falk said. “And we’ve only ever been beat twice (in a row) once, and that was two years ago.”
Adding intrigue to Falk’s usage as a pitcher is it vacates his usual shortstop position. Pacifica’s alternate shortstop is Thompson — a hyper-athletic and versatile player — who just happens to throw left-handed. A natural center fielder who also pitches, Thompson will continue to man the shortstop position throughout the summer whenever Falk is on the mound, according to Coach Falk.
“He’s been doing it all year,” Coach Falk said. “So, we’ve got confidence in him.”