Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
The Pacifica American Majors All-Stars celebrate their District 52 title after a 6-4 victory over Belmont-Redwood Shores.
It was something in the sound of Elijah Ricks squaring up a hanging curve — like an echo of thunder as time stands still.
As Pacifica American manager Steve Falk described it, Ricks’ majestic first-inning home run lit up the dugout and the fans with a contagion of excitement. The two-run shot tied the game in the first inning and Pacifica soon took the lead in the second, ultimately persevering for a 6-4 win over Belmont-Redwood Shores to capture the District 52 Majors All-Star Tournament championship Tuesday at Red Morton Park.
The most dominant player on the District 52 diamond this season, Ricks — who drew a comparison to former big-league great Bo Jackson from BRS manger Steve Robinson — went 2 for 2 with two RBIs and three runs scored in the game. The first inning bomb was a high arching shot to left-center and was gone, as they say, as soon as it left the bat.
“That was shallow compared to some of the ones he’s hit in practice,” Coach Falk said. “We’re down a lot of baseballs at practice right now. But yeah, he’s something else. He puts bat on ball and it gets out there in a hurry.”
On the mound, Pacifica had to make some adjustments on the fly. Starting pitcher Cruise Thompson departed just two outs into the game after yielding a 2-0 lead to Alpine. Enter right-hander Christian Falk. As much as Ricks was a force at the plate, Falk was every bit as much of one on the mound, going 6 1/3 innings to earn the win while striking out 12.
“He just threw well and threw hard and all his breaking pitches were breaking,” Pacifica catcher Justice Turner said.
Falk and Turner make quite the combo. They also pair on their Pacifica Chaos travel-ball team. The two are also cousins and have been playing baseball together since they were 5. Turner — who has caught all but two innings throughout the tourney — was one of the many throughout the District 52 ranks who expected big things from the Pacifica squad this season.
“We had a lot of confidence,” Turner said. “We knew San Mateo American and [BRS] would be hard. But we thought we had a chance (to win the title).”
BRS did not go quietly though. With Pacifica holding a 6-2 lead after four innings, BRS led off the fifth with back-to-back home runs by Drew Dowd and Stevie Dong to cut the lead in half. In the sixth, BRS’ A.J. Paterra reached base on a clean single to get the potential tying run to the base. But Falk buckled down to notch his 12th strikeout of the game to end it.
BRS is always dangerous though. Through six games, the District 52 runner-up scored 72 runs.
“They really thought they had a chance,” Coach Robinson said. “I think we’ve averaged 15, 16 runs a game in this tournament. So, being down four with two innings to play, we were pretty comfortable in that spot. Then we got a couple nice swings in the fifth and got back in it.”
BRS got on the board in the first with an RBI groundout by Aiden Feeley to score Dowd. After a two-out single by Tyler McCabe, Daylin McLemore drove an RBI double off the wall in right-center, giving BRS a 2-0 lead. But Pacifica tied it in the bottom of the frame when Ricks homered after Thompson reached on an infield error.
“The District knows I can hit a fastball,” Ricks said. “So, I know when I get a strike on me, they’re going to throw a breaking ball. So, I was sitting on breaking ball. He made a mistake and left it up, so I just went for it and got it out.”
In the second, Pacifica took the lead for good. After a one-out single by Spencer Karalus, Thompson tabbed a two-out single to put runners at the corners. Ricks walked to load the bases. Then Falk reached on an infield error to score Karalus. Thompson scored on a wild pitch. Chris Rodriguez and Andrew Harkness then drew back-to-back walks; the latter forced home Ricks to give Pacifica a 5-2 lead.
In the sixth, Ricks led off with a scorched double to left. Rodriguez then delivered a one-out RBI single to send Ricks sliding across home for style points to cap Pacifica’s scoring in District play.
Both teams flashed some leather in the game, but Pacifica’s was simply flawless. In the first, Rodriguez made a pick at third to rob BRS of extra bases with a sweet backhand on a one-hop smash off the bat of Dong. In the second, Thompson settled into the shortstop position by ranging into the hole; the left-hander then pivoted to make a 360-degree spin and throw to second to record a force out. In the third, Ricks in center field proved the Bo Jackson comparison an accurate one with a great first step to chase down a sinking line drive on the run.
BRS’ Feeley turned in the play of the game in the fifth while ranging over the middle. Feeley chased down a chopper and threw to first on the run a la Troy Tulowitzki.
“It was a tough hit over the middle,” Feeley said. “It was kind of a chopper. At first I didn’t think I could get it but it started to slow down, or I sped up, and next thing I knew it was in my glove. … I felt like my feet didn’t really get set there. [The throw] was all arm.”
Having played second base most of the tournament, Feeley was moved to shortstop in place of McLemore who was BRS’ starting pitcher. Feeley did play shortstop for his Giants team in BRS Little League this season though.
With the win, Pacifica advances to the Section 3 tournament — the second of four precursor stages on the road to the Little League World Series. The BRS Majors team advanced to Western Region play last year, one stage away from Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
“I think [Pacifica has] a really good shot to go, especially if their pitchers pitch the way they threw against us,” Coach Robinson said. “I think they can definitely go as far as the Belmont team went last year to [Western Region play], and possibly represent California (in Williamsport) for sure. They’re capable of it.”
With Pacifica having won the Section 3 title in the Minors bracket in 2012, the expectations were enormous entering into District 52 play this year. And the 12-player squad did not disappoint.
“We’ve got everyone, not just in Pacifica, but around District 52 with high expectations of what we were going to do,” Coach Falk said. “To come out here and actually do it, it’s pretty impressive that the kids can stay focused. They knew how much pressure was on them. They came out here and they battled — a couple close games — but I told them, good teams, they battle and they get after it and they get wins.”
Undefeated through five postseason games thus far, Pacifica American has done nothing but win.