It wasn’t the final chapter San Mateo American wanted to write. But, when it was all said and done, what a story it was.
After winning two championship banners this summer — claiming both the District 52 and Section 3 titles — San Mateo American fell in the championship game of the Northern California Little League 10-11s State All-Star Tournament with a 10-0 loss Thursday in San Jose to El Dorado Hills.
In a Northern California field of 284 teams, the boys from American were one of the last two teams standing. They posted a 12-3 overall record on the All-Star season, defeating 10 different teams along the way.
“Two out of 284 in Northern California is not too bad,” San Mateo American manager Jason Gordon said. “So, that’s what we’re kind of hanging our hats on right now.”
It seemed like a Cinderella run for the core group of the 11-man roster considering last season at the 9-10s level, American didn’t even advance past the District 52 tournament. That loss in the 2018 district championship game to Pacifica American really stung, but also proved as a motivator for 2019.
“I thought really well of [this season],” American outfielder Charlie Platz said. “I knew we were a good team, but ending off last year losing the last game in the championship of District 52, it was really great just getting this far with my team.”
Platz got to appreciate the ride of this All-Star 10-11s season twofold — both as a player and a fan. Due to a family vacation planned a year in advance to follow his older brother Henry’s team, the Nor Cal Rockets, playing in a tournament in Cooperstown, New York, Platz missed the entire Section 3 tournament and the first two games of the Nor Cal tournament.
The smooth-fielding outfielder was essential to American’s five-game sweep through District 52 play. Then, for the next seven games, he turned into American’s biggest fan, tuning in to every game for the live rotisserie scoreboard via the popular GameChanger website.
“I was really hoping that they’d win because I wanted to play more baseball and I wanted to win the tournament,” Platz said.
The Section 3 tournament was a tough road, considering American lost the tourney opener 8-5 to Granada. After two wins through the elimination bracket, though, needing to win twice against Granada in the championship round, American reveled in the rematch with back-to-back walk-off wins, first a dramatic 2-1 grinder on a game-winning hit by Ian Chang. The following night, Hugo Guzman Jr. fired a shutout to lead a 10-0 mercy-rule walk-off.
“I was really happy because I knew they lost their first game,” Platz said. “So, I knew the odds were against them. But I was just really happy.”
Platz bears one of the many colorful nicknames in the American dugout, dubbed “Charlie Murphy” by American coach Hugo Guzman Sr.
Platz had no idea where the nickname came from when he first heard it — Charlie Murphy, famed for his work on television’s “Chappelle Show” and brother of legendary comedian Eddie Murphy — but soon discovered the origins of the moniker.
So far as nicknames go, Hugo Guzman Sr. has a million of ’em. One of his greatest hits is Hugo Guzman Jr.’s signature “Jooge,” short for “Juju” which is a derivative of “Junior.”
Then there’s cleanup hitter Sean Tam — “Tanimal”; starting catcher Ilonzo Montorio — “Zo”; utility man extraordinaire Oscar Osuna — “The Big O”; sweet-swinging shortstop Donovan Friedland — “Don O”; and slick fielding second baseman Xavier Ruiz, known as, of course — “X.”
No, Chase Gordon’s “Chago” is not a Hugo Guzman Sr. joint. Son of manager Jason Gordon, Chase Gordon picked up his nickname when he was 4 during a Spanish immmersion preschool in Palo Alto.
And just a thought to round out the roster: Nabhan “Ned” Singh, Jonah “Dusty” Murillo, and Ian “Lucky Day” Chang — inspired, of course, by the trio of heroes from the classic film “Three Amigos” — which might come in handy next season, should American retain its roster, or at least a majority of it, for the primetime Little League All-Stars Majors season in 2020.
Additions are always welcome in the Little League ranks. This was certainly the case this year when the team added Friedland. Having played last summer in San Bruno, the Burlingame resident discovered prior to this summer he was in San Mateo American Little League’s geographical territory.
With the addition of Friedland came a new coach, his father Mike, a Capuchino alumnus who went on to play NCAA Division I baseball at Sacramento State, and also minor league ball in the Montreal Expos organization in the 1990s.
“We got a package deal with a dad who is an amazing baseball instructor,” Jason Gordon said. “We definitely won the lottery with that one.”
While American’s official coaching staff this season consisted of just Jason Gordon and Mike Friedland — it’s a Little League rule that a team with an 11-player roster can only carry two coaches, teams with more players can carry three coaches — Hugo Guzman Sr. and Daniel Ruiz were still involved in the everyday operations. Both were on staff as coaches last year for the 9-10s team, but offered to step down in official capacities this year with the addition of Mike Friedland, according to Jason Gordon.
Now, it’s on to next season, when the upwards of 300 teams from Northern California saddle up for the Little League All-Stars Majors tournaments for the magic 12-year-old season — the road to South Williamsport and the Little League World Series.
“We all know things can change year by year,” Jason Gordon said. “It’s young kids. But we hope to put the band back together and take a crack at it.”