With one early swing of the bat by Encinitas, Pacifica American was forced to play catch-up the rest of the evening.
The offensive juggernaut from Northern California never did catch up, as Encinitas downed Pacifica American 9-7 Monday at the Little League Baseball West Regional Tournament at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino.
Southern California-champion Encinitas scored five runs in the first inning, backed by a grand slam home run by Nico Ortega. Pacifica twice closed to within one run, with Encinitas leading 5-4 after two innings, and 7-6 after three. With Encinitas taking a 9-6 lead into the sixth inning, Pacifica rallied in its final at-bat; but after Elijah Ricks scored on a wild pitch, Pacifica stranded the potential tying runs on base as Encinitas closer Spencer Jones shut the door with two consecutive strikeouts.
“One more hit in each one of those innings I think we could have taken the lead,” Pacifica manager Steve Falk said. “It wasn’t one particular point, but we did have our opportunities.”
Jones worked 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run (none earned) on two hits while striking out eight. Ryan Martinez tabbed the win in relief after 1 1/3 innings of work. Pacifica right-hander Christian Falk took the loss, working 3 2/3 innings while surrendering just three hits, but he was charged with seven runs (one earned). The Pacifica defense committed five errors in the game.
“We hit the ball hard,” Coach Falk said. “It was just our defense. It just let us down. We should have won that game 7-1.”
With the loss, Pacifica’s record falls to 1-2 in the tourney. Round-robin play concludes Tuesday for Pacifica with an 11 a.m. matchup against the Nevada state champion Mountain Ridge. Of the six-team field, the teams with the top four records through pool play advance to Friday’s semifinal round. Pacifica (1-2) is currently in fourth place, trailing Hawaii (3-0), Nevada (2-0) and Southern California (2-1). Utah (0-2) and Arizona (0-3) are currently the two teams in line for elimination.
Monday — in a make-up game after Sunday play was postponed due to inclement weather — Pacifica scattered eight hits, outhitting Encinitas 8-6 throughout. Ricks had the only multi-hit performance in the game for either team, as Pacifica’s top hitter went 2 for 4 with a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored. Ricks is currently 5 for 7 through West Regional play and is now hitting .721 (31 for 43) through 15 postseason games.
After Encinitas scored five runs in the top of the first, Pacifica sent seven batters to the plate in the bottom of the frame.
Ricks reached on a one-out error to get things started. Falk followed with a single to advance Ricks to second. After both runners moved up on a wild pitch, cleanup hitter Chris Rodriguez got Pacifica on the board with an RBI groundout to score Ricks. Justice Turner followed with a two-out single to left to plate Falk. But after walks to Andrew Harkness and Jordan Salgado, Pacifica stranded the bases loaded to trail 5-2 after the first.
In the second, Cruise Thompson singled with one out to set the stage for Ricks’ 12th home run of the postseason — and Pacifica’s first of West Regional play — to cut the Encinitas lead to 5-4.
In the third, Encinitas scored two insurance runs with an RBI groundout by Ethan Workinger to plate Jones, and an RBI double by Luke Berardi to drive home Austin Machado.
But Pacifica answered back with two runs in the bottom of the frame. After a one-out single by Shane Hawkins, Pacifica No. 9 hitter Tyler Shaw produced a two-out single to drive home courtesy runner Salgado. After Thompson was hit by a pitch, Shaw later scored on a passed ball. But Pacifica again stranded the potential tying run on base, leaving Thompson at third.
Trailing by three runs heading into its final at-bat in the bottom of the sixth, Ricks sparked a rally with a leadoff single to right and moved to third on a pair of Encinitas throwing errors. Ricks then scored on a wild pitch. But after a one-out walk to Rodriguez and Turner reached on an error representing the tying run, Jones notched two punch-outs to end it, striking out the side in the sixth amid the rally.
“We could have done a better job of getting a big hit but out defense is what let us down tonight,” Coach Falk said. “When you do that against a good team, you’re not going to win.”
Pacifica’s overall record throughout postseason play now stands at 13-2.