Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
Pacifica American celebrates its Division 2 championship after a dramatic 17-15 win over Woodcreek. With the win, Pacifica advances to the Westerm Regional playoff tournament in San Bernardino, the winner of which qualifies for the Little League World Series.
SAN JOSE — It was like the Little League version of the Thrilla in Manila, with Pacifca American playing the part of The Greatest.
In a Northern California championship rematch two years in the making, Pacifica American prevailed 17-15 in the Division 2 All-Star Little League final Thursday at San Jose’s Cambrian Park with a slugfest for the ages. After Pacifica jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the early innings, Woodcreek rallied back. But after the lead changed hands twice, Pacifica at last prevailed.
The two teams previously battled in the 2012 Minors Northern California tourney, when Woodcreek swept two games from Pacifica in the finals to claim the title. This year, the rivals battled once more, but Pacifica got a career performance from Christian Falk, who went 4 for 5 with two home runs and seven RBIs to rally the green-and-gold to victory.
“My kid has wanted this game for two years,” Pacifica American manager Steve Falk said. “When we heard [Woodcreek] was going to be back, he wanted it. I know the other kids wanted it. And he just pounded the ball today. I’m just so proud of him right now.”
In winning the Northern California title, Pacifica advances to the six-team Western Regional tournament beginning next Friday in San Bernardino. Pacifica is scheduled to take on the Hawaii champs from Honolulu Little League in the opener. It is the first Pacifica team ever to reach the penultimate tourney en route to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It is just the second District 52 team to do so, and the second in as many years after Belmont-Redwood Shores advanced to Regional play last year.
“It’s the first time in the history of our Little League, and we’ve been around for quite some time,” Coach Falk said. “They’re excited.”
The historic victory didn’t come easy though. Woodcreek battled at the plate, hanging four crooked numbers on the scoreboard through the six-inning contest. After Pacifica took a 9-2 lead in the top of the third, Woodcreek answered back with six runs in the bottom of the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, with right-hander Elijah Ricks on in relief of starting pitcher Christian Falk, Woodcreek rallied for two more to take a 10-9 lead on a Riley Regan triple to plate Jason Hanson.
In the top of the fifth, however, Ricks and Falk took the lead right back. Ricks led off the inning with a solid single to center, setting the stage for Pacifica to send 14 batters to the plate amid an eight-run inning.
“If I make a mistake on defense, I know I have to help my team with my hitting,” Ricks said.
Christian Falk then came to the plate representing the go-ahead run and launched his second home run of the game with a booming shot to left-center. While opposing pitchers managed to keep Ricks in the yard — he was 2 for 2 with a pair of singles and three walks — Christian Falk made nemesis Woodcreek pay.
“They walk me and they think they can get by Christian, but we all knew that Christian was going to have a good day,” Ricks said.
With Pacifica taking a 17-10 lead, Woodcreek still refused to go quietly, rallying for five runs in the bottom of the fifth. Facing Pacifica reliever Chris Rodriguez, Woodcreek had the tying runs on the corners with two outs when Aiden Martinez hit a blooper to shallow right field. It had trouble written all over it, but that’s when Pacifica’s defense took over the game as Spencer Karalius made the play of the year with an all-out diving catch to prevent Woodcreek from tying it up.
“Spencer had a great play,” Pacifica center fielder Cruise Thompson said. “He fully laid out. It just had everyone fired up. It was a great catch.”
And the importance of the catch was monumental on the scoreboard.
“If he doesn’t come up with that, they tie the game and [the go-ahead run] is on second with two outs,” Coach Falk said.
In the bottom of the sixth, with Pacifica still clinging to a two-run lead, Woodcreek’s Alec Gums led off by launching a drive to center field. But Thompson sprinted back to the wall to chase it down — possibly keeping it in the yard — for the first out of the inning. Then with two outs, Rodriguez induced a grounder to second baseman Tyler Shaw, who gathered in the seemingly routine play and threw to first baseman Andrew Harkness to send Pacifica into a frenzy of celebration.
“It didn’t feel very routine,” Shaw said.
The Division 2 championship is Pacifica American’s third such celebration of the postseason, with the team previously winning the District 52 and Section 3 titles. And the celebrations just keep getting more meaningful.
“It was the best moment I’ve had all year,” Shaw said. “It just gets more and more exciting as the year goes on. And I think this is the most exciting time I’ve ever had with this team.”
Giving up a seven-run lead is the biggest lead Pacifica has surrendered all year. But that made the win all the more special for Coach Falk, who celebrates his birthday Friday.
“They were unbelievable today,” he said. “Most teams would fold. You take a 9-2 lead and give up that lead really fast, it’s hit and miss. But these kids battled. I’m just so proud of them.”