NEWARK — One wild inning after another.
That was the script in the Section 3 Little League All-Stars Juniors Tournament winner-take-all championship finale Wednesday night at Newark Memorial High School. But it was the one inning that San Carlos kept from spiraling out of control that set the tone for the 14-and-under squad’s 14-5 championship victory.
San Carlos starting pitcher Reid Cole bounced back from a perilous start. The right-hander put the first three San Ramon batters on base in the bottom of the first inning. But all it took was a quick visit from catcher Logan Mathias for Cole to find his footing, riding his curveball to three straight strikeouts to escape the jam unscathed.
“The mojo was in our dugout,” San Carlos relief pitcher Aidan Armando said. “We were really feeling it after. Reid was dealing. We were so hyped.”
Cole worked 3 2/3 innings to earn the win, and Armando entered to earn the rulebook save with 3 1/3 innings in relief. And San Carlos seized on the momentum of their valiant arms, rallying for eight runs in the top of the third inning and adding 2-spots in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
“We knew that the other team was down on pitching, and we knew that we needed to come out and put runs up,” San Carlos manager Steve Magner said. “We went through the first inning and saw their pitching and I knew the second time through the order we were going to start putting the bat on the ball. It was just a matter of time before we started to put runs up, and that’s what we did the second time through the lineup, we put eight runs up.”
San Ramon — coming off a 3-2 victory Tuesday in the first game of the championship round after getting knocked into the elimination bracket by San Carlos in the tournament opener —didn’t make it easy though. After the landslide top of the third, San Ramon answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame. San Carlos fired back with two in the fourth, but San Ramon scored three in the bottom of the inning.
“It’s always a little stressful,” Steve Magner said. “No lead is too big of a lead. So, we always wanted to keep adding on. They put up a couple runs, but we’d always answer back … so we just kept that distance.”
Ultimately, the eight-run third was the difference in the game. San Carlos made some noise with the bats, cranking out four doubles in the inning.
Tyler Castricone opened the inning with a double to left field. He later added an RBI single to tab two hits in the inning, and finished the night with three hits.
“It feels really good because hits are what win games,” Castricone said. “If we swing the bats, we get hits. And it felt really good to be a part of that and help contribute to that win.”
It was Castricone’s second straight start at third base, and just his second start of the All-Stars season. San Carlos was down to just 11 players on roster Wednesday. And while Castricone, during the San Carlos Juniors regular season, hit primarily in the No. 2 spot, he batted in the No. 9 spot in his two All-Star starts. As it turned out, he emerged as the perfect presence to turn over the batting order.
“He came off the bench in other games but today we started him, and he came up big,” Steve Magner said. “He went 2 for 2 (in the third inning) and got things started and, yeah, that was a big inning for us.”
Clayton Magner and Luke Robinson followed with consecutive doubles, giving San Carlos back-to-back-to-back two-baggers. The two paced San Carlos with three RBIs apiece in the game. Gavin Reynick later added an RBI double in the inning.
After the back-and-forth fireworks between the two teams’ offenses, Armando emerged to wrestle the game under control. The right-hander hasn’t pitched more than four innings in any individual appearance, but said he was intent on giving San Carlos as much length as he could in Wednesday’s championship push.
Armando pitched through trouble in the fifth but stranded the bases loaded. Through 3 1/3 innings, he left six San Ramon runners on base. But he also turned in the only 1-2-3 inning for either side in the sixth, notching two of his four strikeouts. He ultimately surrendered no runs in the game.
“I was feeling good tonight, just throwing strikes and getting it done for my team,” Armando said.
Armando also turned in the defensive gem of the night in the sixth inning. On a slow trickler to the left side of the infield off the bat of San Ramon’s Matt Carano, Armando sped off the mound and, in his attempt to field it, lost his footing and slid to the turf. But with his back to first base, Armando somehow found the handle on the ball and, from the seated position, rolled over and threw a perfect strike to first base to get the out.
“I did not think I had any chance,” Armando said. “I just kind of heaved it and hoped for the best, and it worked.”
With the win, San Carlos advances to the Division II Northern California playoff tournament. Play opens Saturday in Healdsburg, at Healdsburg Memorial Park.
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