Pacifica American got some help Tuesday to clinch a berth in the final four of the Little League Baseball West Regional playoffs.
Of the original field of six teams, the top four advance to Friday’s semifinal round on the road to the Little League World Series. Despite a 13-2 loss Tuesday to Nevada state champion Mountain Ridge, Pacifica (1-3) still advanced to the semis as the No. 4 seed after winless Utah lost 25-0 to Hawaii. Although Utah and Arizona — each currently with 0-3 records — play Wednesday, Pacifica will win either tiebreaker scenario after finishing with the same record as the victor.
So, Pacifica is assured of playing an elimination game Friday at 6 p.m. at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino. The green-and-gold will take on the No. 1 seed — either Nevada or Hawaii — which will be determined after Wednesday’s matchup between Nevada and Southern California. The winners of each of the two semifinal games will play in Saturday’s championship game at 6 p.m. to determine thoroughfare to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
“Any four of the teams can easily win this thing … and then make some noise in Williamsport,” Pacifica manager Steve Falk said.
With his team posting a 1-3 record through pool play — Pacifica’s first three losses of the postseason after entering regional play with 12 consecutive wins — Falk remains optimistic about Pacifica’s chances.
“They’re definitely bummed out about losing,” Falk said. “But from the very beginning, our goal has been to get into the final four, and then anything is possible.”
The team will have its full depth of pitching available Friday, after Falk removed starting pitcher Elijah Ricks from Tuesday’s game amid a 2-1 score to keep him under the 50-pitch limit and enabling him to pitch in two days’ time.
“We didn’t really go at [Mountain Ridge] with our full arsenal,” Falk said.
Pacifica kept within striking distance, and after Ricks departed from the mound the team even tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the third. But once Pacifica went to its bullpen, the Mountain Ridge offense scored 11 unanswered runs over the final three innings to turn its win into a rout. Of the four relievers utilized by Pacifica, Justice Turner and Spencer Karalius were making their postseason debuts on the mound, and Mateo Jimenez had pitched just 2/3 of an inning in one previous appearance.
In the first inning, the typically clutch Pacifica defense continued to struggle in San Bernardino. With help from two Pacifica errors, Mountain Ridge got on the board in the opening frame. In the second, Mountain Ridge produced three straight singles and a bases-loaded walk to go up 2-0.
Pacifica came back to tie it with single runs in the second and third though. In the second, Turner drew a lead off walk. Nate Azzopardi followed with a one-out single to move Turner to third. Tyler Shaw then delivered an RBI single to center to score Turner, closing the deficit to 2-1.
In the third, Ricks led off with his second home run in as many days — a lofty, opposite-field shot to right-center — to tie it at 2-2.
But once Pacifica went to the bullpen, Mountain Ridge went large. In the fourth, Brennan Holligan launched a two-run home run. Then after Bradley Stone tripled, he stole home to give Mountain Ridge a 5-2 lead. In the fifth, Mountain Ridge loaded the bases with no outs before Austin Kryszczuk—who has homered in each of Mountain Ridge’s three West Regional games — hit a booming grand slam to give his team a 9-2 lead. In the sixth, Mountain Ridge again loaded the bases before Stone walked to force home one run. Andrew Matulich followed with a double to clear the bases, capping the day’s scoring.
Stone earned the win, working 3 1/3 innings while surrendering two runs (one earned) on six hits. Zachary Hare closed it out with 2/3 innings of work to tab the save. Ricks took the loss through 2 1/3 innings.
Ricks tabbed his third multi-hit game of the tournament, and the only for Pacifica, going 2 for 2. He is now 8 for 12 with two home runs and six RBIs through four games in the tourney.
And despite a 1-3 record through pool play, Pacifica now finds itself just two wins away from Williamsport.
“They’ve got a lot of fight in them,” Falk said. “I don’t think they’re done just yet.”
Pacifica clinched the No. 4 seed by virtue of two different tiebreaker bylaws. If Arizona defeats Utah Wednesday, Pacifica would win the tiebreaker based on having defeated Arizona in heads-up play 7-3 Saturday. If Utah, which has not played Pacifica, defeats Arizona, Pacifica wins the tiebreaker based on having given up less runs in the tourney than Utah. Pacifica has given up 35 runs through four games. Utah has given up 51 runs through its first three games.
Friday’s semifinal will be broadcast on ESPN2. Saturday’s championship game can be seen at 6 p.m. on ESPN.