San Mateo American’s comeback mojo finally ran out.

After setting the table in the bottom of the sixth inning, American left the potential tying and winning runs on base in a season-ending 4-3 loss to Petaluma in the Northern California Division II Little League 11-12s All-Stars Tournament championship game.

“They were disappointed,” San Mateo American manager Steve Church said. “They felt they were the better team. It was not the result we were looking for.”

American entered the final inning trailing 4-1 and pushed two runs across with an RBI double by Jared Walsh, followed by an RBI single by Leo Rhien, both coming with no outs. But Petaluma turned in a clutch defensive play when Jack Hickey hit a grounder to shortstop by cutting down the runner at the plate for the first out of the inning.

“It was bang-bang,” Steve Church said. “It could have gone either way.”

Milo Morelli followed with a fly out and Brody Crudeli grounded out to third base to end American’s improbable run through the All-Star postseason.

American finishes the summer with a record 13-3 record, including 10-1 in elimination games.

American had its chances though, the most critical coming in the first inning by loading the bases with no outs.

Petaluma led off the game with a solo home run off American starting pitcher Milo Morelli. But American responded in the bottom of the first by loading the bases with no outs. Morelli and Crudeli led off with back-to-back walks, followed by an infield single by RJ Church. But Petaluma mowed through the next three batters, striking out the side to leave the bases full of American runners.

“Our boys know it’s a long game if they don’t score … the mood was still fine,” Steve Church said. “We knew that 1-0 wasn’t going to kill us.”

Petaluma’s big blast came in the fifth inning. Morelli worked into the fifth, but walked two batters to bring Petaluma’s cleanup hitter to the plate. The last pitch Morelli threw on the summer was an offering high in the strike zone that got turned around for a three-run home run to put Petaluma up 4-1.

“He left one up and he hit a three-run bomb, which was kind of the difference of the game,” Steve Church said.

Julio Calderon entered in relief and threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

“He kept us in the game,” Steve Church said. “He was pitching his butt off, and he didn’t give up a run after that.”

American has earned a comeback-kids distinction this summer, seeming to defy the odds to bounce back again and again. In the District 52 Tournament, they dropped their opening game of the All-Star season, only to win seven straight elimination games to claim the district banner. American also lost the opener in the Nor Cal tourney before marching through the elimination bracket with three straight victories, all of which were comeback wins.

As the bottom of the sixth inning unfolded Thursday, before falling one run short of extending the tournament to Friday’s if-necessary game, it seemed American was staying true to comeback script.

“Yeah, it did,” Steve Church said. “It always felt like we were in it the entire game. That little bit of a rally toward the end was reminiscent of our style of baseball … and the kids continuing to fight. And that’s what they did. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

Petaluma now advances to the West Zone Regional tournament opening Aug. 8 in San Bernardino, with the winner of that eight-team tourney earning thoroughfare to the Little League World Series.

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(1) comment

JustMike650

Coach Church - great job leading SMLLA through their championship-journey quest. They played in your image and made The City of San Mateo proud.

Never forget to give the other team props within the first sentence of being interviewed. This quote is OK to keep in house (“They were disappointed,” San Mateo American manager Steve Church said. “They felt they were the better team. It was not the result we were looking for.”) - but not for other teams to read about.

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