DANVILLE — San Mateo American and Danville are all square at the Section 3 10-11 year-old All-Star tournament and will meet in a rubber match Wednesday in Danville for all the marbles: the Section 3 tournament title and a spot in the Northern California state tournament.
The two teams met in Saturday’s opener at Osage Park in Danville, with San Mateo American coming away with a 5-0 win, riding that to a undefeated spot in the championship round.
Danville maneuvered its through the losers’ bracket and emerged to face American in Game 1 of the championship series Tuesday.
Danville did just enough, taking a 5-1 lead and holding on for a 5-4 win to force a second game in the championship series at 5:30 Wednesday at Osage Park.
“We knew it was a high likelihood it would come down to a winner-take-all (game),” said San Mateo manager Paul Witten.
It really was by a matter of inches, too. With a run in, the bases loaded, the tying run on third and two outs, San Mateo’s DJ Ruiz hit a hot shot to the Danville third baseman, who was playing in the hole at shortstop. He fielded the ball and instead of throwing to first, raced Landon King to third, beating the San Mateo shortstop by half a step to force Wednesday’s winner-take-all matchup.
San Mateo struggled to get anything going offensively against Danville lefty starter Colton Fitzgibbons, who did not allow a hit while striking out eight in four innings of work. He was not dominant, but when made the plays when required of him.
“He made the pitch when he needed to,” Witten said.
San Mateo did, however, manage to scratch out a run against Fitzgibbons in the top of the fourth inning when pinch hitter Apollo Lee kick-started the inning with a walk and later scored when Jake McGee’s grounder to first was misplayed.
“[Fitzgibbons] very difficult to hit,” Witten said. “We knew he would be tough.”
San Mateo did make Danville’s ace work, however, and that contributed to him reaching his pitch count at the end of the fourth inning. After that, San Mateo went to work agains the Danville bullpen. It tacked on a pair of runs in the top of the fifth, picking up its first hit of the game along the way. Nick Loew, who led off with a walk, was forced at second when Max Yeh broke up the no-hit bid with a single to shallow center. Jaeden Young worked a base on balls and No. 3 hitter Landon King was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Following a strikeout for the second out of the inning, it looked like Danville would escape unscathed when reliever Charlie O’Hagan induced a routine grounder to second base off the bat of Ruiz.
But the second baseman misplayed the ball, allowing Yeh to score. King would score on a McGee infield hit RBI and San Mateo was down 5-3.
San Mateo reliever Evan Gilbert worked out of a jam in the bottom of the fifth to give his team one last crack at Danville.
With one out and Nick Loew on first, Yeh walked. Following a strikeout, King was intentionally walked to load the bases again. San Mateo stayed alive when William Folau’s grounder was botched by the second baseman, enabling Loew to score and cut the Danville lead to 5-4.
That set up the race between King and Danville third baseman Chase Botsford.
San Mateo starter Ruiz made only a couple of mistakes and it cost him early as he allowed a pair of runs in the first inning. Danville wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard, taking a 1-0 lead after the first two hitters as Michael Jones and Colton Fitzgibbons opened the game with back-to-back doubles. Fitzgibbons ended up scoring from third on a wild pitch and the pressure was on San Mateo right away.
Ruiz rebounded, however, and worked into the fourth inning, finishing with a line of 3 runs on 3 hits with five strikeouts.
“The game is not won or lost in the first inning,” Witten said.
Despite the loss, Witten was happy to see his team battle to the very end and the defeat was made easier to swallow knowing there would be one more game to be played.
“They threw their horse and we lost by one run,” Witten said. “These (San Mateo) guys are fighters and they work hard, which is all we ask of them.”