SAN JOSE — It’s fitting Pacifica American’s Justice Turner bears a resemblance to a young James Earl Jones.
Like Jones’ character Leon Carter from the classic 1970s baseball film “The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” Turner has served as a catcher for a good portion of the postseason. But Turner actually did a better Shoeless Joe Jackson interpretation over the weekend in moving to the outfield.
With a tremendous diving catch in the second inning of Saturday’s Section 2 Northern California opener, Turner helped set the tone for two straight wins for the Pacifica American Little League All-Star team. Pacifica cruised past District 10 champion River Park American 14-4 Saturday, and rolled to a 14-6 win over Woodcreek Sunday at San Jose’s Cambrian Park.
Unbeaten Pacifica now advances through the winners’ bracket to take on undefeated Mill Valley Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. The winner advances to Thursday’s championship round in the double-elimination tourney.
With its patented depth, Pacifica keeps responding to every test throughout a remarkable postseason run. Now just two wins away from the Western Region playoffs and a shot to advance to the Little League World Series, Pacifica just keeps doing what it does — playing ball.
“They keep it pretty much the same going into every game,” Pacifica manager Steve Falk said. “There’s never too much high or too much low.”
Pacifica played from behind in each of its first two Nor Cal wins. Saturday, River Park jumped out to an early 2-0 lead against starting pitcher Elijah Ricks. But Pacifica responded with an array of power, including two home runs from leadoff hitter Cruise Thompson, and a big three-run bomb in the fourth from cleanup hitter Chris Rodriguez.
Ultimately, Pacifica walked off with the opening-game victory on a two-RBI double by Andrew Harkness in the bottom of the fifth to complete a 10-run, mercy-rule victory.
“We’re pretty confident,” Rodriguez said. “We tend to put up a lot of runs. So, we are confident in what we can do.”
Thompson set the tone right out of the gate for the Pacifica offense Saturday. The left-handed leadoff hitter blasted a first-inning home run to center field to cut River Park’s lead to 2-1. After a smashed double by Ricks, Christian Falk walked. Rodriguez followed with an RBI single to tie it. Falk later scored on a wild pitch to give Pacifica the lead for good.
“On the field, they’re picking each other up,” Coach Falk said. “All good teams seem to be able to do that.”
Turner picked up his defense in the top of the second with an outstanding diving catch to rob River Park’s Blake Asadoor of extra bases. The play loomed large as it allowed Ricks to retire the side in order after he scuffled in the first inning. Ricks went on to work 3 1/3 innings to earn the win.
Turner credited catcher Spencer Karalius for his strong game behind the plate. After Turner worked nearly the entire District 52 Tournament behind the dish, he and Karalius worked in tandem through Section 3 play to handle Pacifica’s tremendous depth of pitching.
“Spencer did great,” Turner said. “He stopped a lot of balls. Especially catching [Ricks], he throws hard.”
For a team with so many secret weapons at its disposal, it turns out Turner’s outfield presence is another pleasant surprise.
“He’s one of the top outfielders on this team and he’s fast,” Coach Falk said. “So, we know he’s going to do his job out there in the field. If we can get anything else out of him at the plate, it’s just a bonus.”
Turner produced the bonus Sunday against Woodcreek, going 2 for 4 with his first home run of the postseason. Ricks added a pair of bombs, Shane Turner went 2 for 4 with a homer, and Tyler Shaw was 2 for 3 with two RBIs.
But the big bat in Sunday’s win was swung by Karalius, as the catcher went 4 for 4 with a solo blast in the third inning.
Finding itself in familiar territory by trailing 3-2 after the first inning, Pacifica roared back with a five-run rally in the second. The bottom of the order generated the spark as Nate Azzopardi led off with a walk, Karalius singled, and Shaw singled to load the bases. After a walk to Thompson and a hit batsman to Ricks — each driving runs home — Christian Falk cleared the bases with a three-run double.
“It was fast too. It was like bang-bang-bang — five runs,” Coach Falk said. “It kind of took the wind out of [Woodcreek] after their three-run inning.”
The Nor Cal tourney also provided Pacifica with a chance to take its first overnight road trip of the postseason. The team stayed at the San Jose Marriot for two nights. Pacifica returned home following Sunday’s win and plans to practice Monday before returning for Tuesday afternoon’s showdown with Mill Valley.