SAN JOSE — It wasn’t pretty, but San Mateo American will take it.
American’s 10-11-year-olds advanced to the championship round of the Northern California Little League 10-11s State All-Star Tournament with a wild 16-6 mercy-rule win Wednesday evening at Mike Logan Park over River Park-Fresno.
After yielding four runs in the top of the second inning, American rallied back to score 10 runs in the bottom of the frame and six more in the third, and reliever Oscar Osuna pitched the last 2 2/3 innings to earn the win in the elimination bracket final.
“I feels really good,” San Mateo American’s Charlie Platz said of advancing to the championship round, starting Thursday night at Logan Park at 5:30 p.m. against El Dorado Hills. “Even though we’re in the losers’ bracket, it feels really good.”
The recurring theme of the game, however, was the tight strike zone. In the three-and-a-half inning mercy-rule game, the two teams combined for 15 walks and 210 pitches.
During River Park’s four-run rally in the top of the second, they didn’t produce a hit, instead drawing four walks and having one batter reach on an error. In the bottom of the inning, American sent 14 batters to the plate, totaling five walks in the frame.
“I thought it was highly unfortunate,” American manager Jason Gordon said. “I don’t feel good about it but we just adjusted to it. … I don’t like to watch games get decided by umpires.”
Neither starting pitcher lasted through the second inning. But bringing in Osuna to pitch was a keen tactical move as the right-hander settled things down in a hurry.
Osuna entered and got two outs to end the second, then allowed just two runs on two hits — and perhaps more importantly, just one walk — to bring normalcy back to the diamond.
“Oscar is probably our best reliever just coming in and throwing strikes,” Jason Gordon said. “He’s just going to do his job. He’s pretty poised … and that’s what we needed.”
American got a much-needed comeback too, after things seemed to be unraveling in the second inning.
The critical play came with American still trailing 4-0.
With the bases loaded and one out, River Park opted to play the infield in. Ian Chang then shot a sharp grounder to the right side of the diamond, with River Park first baseman Dylan Slakey making a nice diving nab. As Slakey hopped to his feet, he had an easy out in front of him at first base, but someone from the River Park dugout shouted “Four!” — meaning to throw home — and he did, short-hopping the catcher for an errant throw, allowing Donovan Friedland to score American’s first run of the game.
“He had him (at the plate), he just threw it in the dirt,” Jason Gordon said. “It would have been a hell of a play.”
Chang was the third in a string of 11 straight American batters to reach base.
American didn’t record its first hit of the night until later in the inning when Chase Gordon looped an RBI single to left to close the score to 4-3. Sean Tam — who was already finished on the mound after working 1 1/3 innings as American’s starter — redeemed his shaky pitching performance with a sharp RBI single to right-center to tie it.
Friedland then gave American the lead with an RBI single to left-center. After back-to-back walks to Ilonzo Montorio and Osuna, No. 8 hitter Nabhan Singh dug out an inside fastball and drilled and RBI double up the left-center gap.
“I think we can come back no matter how far we are behind,” Singh said, “because we’re just that good of a team.”
River Park got two runs back in the top of the third on a two-run home run by Russell Devany, a no-doubt-about-it bomb to left field.
In the bottom of the inning, though, American rallied for all the runs it needed to earn the 10-run, mercy-rule differential.
The key at-bat of the inning was courtesy of the pinch-hitter Platz, who stepped up with two on and one out, and grinded through a nine-pitch battle before sending a sacrifice fly to center field, giving American a 14-6 lead.
“With two strikes, I always just try to protect the strike zone,” Platz said. “And I try not to get walked.”
“That’s the way we like to hit too,” Jason Gordon said.
Chang later scored on a wild pitch, followed by an RBI single by Jonah Murillo to up the lead to 16-6.
Then Osuna marched back up the mound poised to get the final three outs in the top of the fourth inning, the minimum number of innings needed to invoke a 10-run mercy rule.
“I just wanted to get those three outs,” Osuna said.
That he did, including one from a gunslinging throw by his catcher Hugo Guzman Jr., who played all over the field Wednesday, including third base, center field and behind the plate. Guzman’s back-pick at first base accounted for the second out of the inning. Osuna finished off the game inducing a fly ball to center.
Tam led all hitters with two hits on the night.
With the Northern California tournament the final level of play for 10-11s — unlike the Majors tournament, which has the West Zone Regional and the Little League World Series still to go — American has now reached the pinnacle championship round.
With El Dorado Hills having advanced through the winners’ bracket — including a 7-1 win Tuesday over American — American must win twice, with El Dorado Hills needing win just once. Championship play opens Thursday at Logan Park at 5:30 p.m. If necessary, the second game will be played Friday at Logan Park at 5:30 p.m.