SAN JOSE — San Mateo American is off and running in the Northern California 10-11s State All-Star Tournament.
After American opened the tourney Saturday with an 11-1 win over Atwater-Merced — the fourth time in five games they have scored in double digits — the District 52 and Section 3 champs fought their way through the winners’ bracket Sunday at Mike Logan Park in a low-scoring battle with Sunnyvale.
Clutch defense loomed large, setting the stage for American’s four-run rally in the fifth to break a scoreless tie. And while reliever Hugo Guzman Jr. was credited with the save, it was actually the arm of catcher Ilonzo Montorio that saved the day as American held off a last-licks charge for a 4-2 victory.
“Especially when you can’t break through on offense, it’s nice when you’re able to offset that on the defensive side,” American manager Jason Gordon said.
Montorio’s heroics in the bottom of the sixth delivered the final out of the game. Sunnyvale had scored two runs in the frame, and had runners at first and second with two outs. When Guzman missed with a 1-2 pitch, the runner at first base wandered too far with his secondary lead, so Montorio gunned behind him for first baseman Chase Gordon to slap the tag down to end the game with a back-pick stunner.
Most of the American players reveled in celebration, but not Guzman, who marched off the mound with the proverbial chip on his shoulder after facing three batters, surrendering two hits and walk. The right-hander entered after right-hander Sean Tam got the first two outs of the inning, but with Tam’s pitch count at 20 — the maximum allowed to still be available to pitch Monday — Jason Gordon opted to bring in Guzman.
“[Tam] was at 20 pitches and we needed one more out,” Jason Gordon said. “I figure, one of my best pitchers can come in and get one out on 20 pitches … and it almost came back to bite us.”
Montorio’s rocket throw was a fitting note to close on, though, considering American’s defensive brilliance was on display all morning. Right fielder Ian Chang set the tone in the first inning, covering a lot of ground to make a spectacular diving catch in foul territory for the second out of the frame.
Chang’s catch was especially significant considering the next three Sunnyvale hitters — Howard Cheng, Arya Jangity and Ren Ohara — strung together three straight hits to load the bases. But starting pitcher Chase Gordon navigated through the danger by inducing a grounder to the sure-handed second baseman Xavier Ruiz to retire the side.
The southpaw Chase Gordon worked three shutout innings to take a no-decision, stranding five Sunnyvale runners during that stretch. He stared down another jam in the second inning with two on and one out, but a sharp grounder at Ruiz ended in a 4-6-3 double play.
“Chase pitched really, really good,” Tam said. “He didn’t have his best day, but he still pitched well. We can rely on him to do good.”
Tam took over to start the fourth and immediately found himself in hot water when Andrew Sun shot a leadoff double up the right-center gap. Then American stole back the momentum on defense with an unorthodox double play.
The next batter grounded out to the left side, with shortstop Donovan Friedland looking back the runner before throwing across the diamond to Chase Gordon at first base. As Friedland released the ball, however, Sun took off for third base. Chase Gordon made him regret it though as he fired a fastball on target to Guzman, the third baseman, who dropped the tag for a bang-bang finish on the twin killing to keep the score tied at zero.
“I like making those plays,” Chase Gordon said. “I don’t know about making those plays all the time … but I knew Sean Tam was on the mound, so I had to get one for him.”
Tam went on to pitch 2 2/3 innings to earn the win.
“He shoved it,” Chase Gordon said. “He shoved it against a very good team.”
Tam also stepped up to the plate in the fifth for American’s biggest swing of the game.
Guzman opened the top of the fifth by getting hit by a pitch. Ruiz bunted him to second and Chase Gordon drew a walk to put runners at first and second with one out. Tam then got American on the board, lacing a double up the left-center gap to score Guzman.
“He has been fighting it (at the plate) the last two or three games,” Jason Gordon said. “So, it was good to see that.”
Friedland followed with a sacrifice fly to score Chase Gordon, but the ball was dropped by the Sunnyvale outfielder allowing Tam to move to third, and Friedland to reach second. Tam then scored on a wild pitch. Montorio capped the scoring with a grounder to third that saw Friedland take off for the plate after the throw across the diamond to up the lead to 4-0.
Despite the high output of offense in previous games, American fed off the low-scoring battle.
“This was a really good game, too,” Tam said. “You get more joy out of these wins when it’s intense.”
With the win, American advances through the winners’ bracket in the seven-team, double-elimination tournament. American now faces El Dorado Hills — with the winner advancing to the championship round — Tuesday at Mike Logan Park. First pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.