By Terry Bernal
Daily Journal Staff
CASTRO VALLEY — San Mateo National is in uncharted territory.
After winning eight straight games to claim the District 52 and Section 3 championships, National’s path to South Williamsport went wayward with a 10-5 loss Saturday to Maidu-Roseville in the Northern California Little League All-Stars Majors tournament opener.
National bounced back Sunday to stay alive in the seven-team, double-elimination tournament at Five Canyons Park, riding the right arm of starting pitcher Noah Greenspan to a 2-0 victory over Turlock. The big right-hander escaped a runner-on-third, one-out jam in the first and dominated from there, serving up a two-hit shutout while striking out 11.
“He buckled down,” National manager Dan Luzzi said. “He’s such a bulldog. He’s just a man-child out there.”
But Greenspan wasn’t the only hero for National, who got a clutch play in their last at-bat from an unlikely source — the third-base bag.
Battling into the sixth and final inning amid a scoreless tie, National sparked a one-out rally with back-to-back singles from Greenspan and Soren Blanchard. Then Jay Leder stepped up and hit a two-hopper down the third-base line. Turlock third baseman Vincent Gonzalez had a potential double play in front of him, but the ball hit third base and careened into left field.
“I was watching it down the line and I could tell it was going to hit the base because I saw the path,” Leder said, “So, I was just waiting for it.”
Something had to give in a game characterized by dominant pitching and flawless defense. These have been the staples of National’s game all summer, but the resemblance of Turlock’s similar style was uncanny.
So, with the fluke hop, Greenspan scored from second with the game’s first run.
“It was huge because the third baseman had already made great plays,” Luzzi said of the play. “So, I was afraid he was going to step on the bag and throw over to first for the double play.”
National then produced an insurance run, but pinch-runner Riley Lim, who advanced to third on Leder’s double, had to work for it. Kurt Schaffer lifted a fly ball to center field for Garrett Shangochian, who had been in the spotlight all afternoon.
Earlier in the game, in Shangochian’s first plate appearance, he got hit by a pitch, taking a Greenspan fastball off the chin — literally. The pitch glanced off Shangochian’s face, went straight back to the backstop, and play was halted for several minutes, though not at the request of Shangochian, who took a moment’s pause before running down to first base and remaining in the game.
Then before National sparked the sixth-inning rally, Shangochian opened the frame by robbing Alejandro Formosa of a hit by charging straight in to finish with a diving nab.
So, when Schaffer lifted a medium-deep fly to center, Shangochian looked poised to take center stage again, peeling off a throw straight through to the plate that got to the catcher on a fly. The throw beat Lim there, but the catcher received it in front of the plate, allowing Lim to dance around the tag with an acrobatic slide.
“Creative slide,” Luzzi said. “Got by him wiggly.”
Greenspan did the rest, locating his fastball with precision into the late innings. It took him an inning to find his footing though.
Turlock leadoff batter Josh Ramirez opened the bottom of the first with a flare to right. Greenspan then uncorked back-to-back wild pitches, seeing Ramirez move to third with one out. He was stranded there, though, with Greenspan tabbing consecutive swinging strikeouts before ending the inning with a groundout to shortstop Sean Kelly.
“I just had to get my first few strikeouts over with,” Greenspan said. “In Little League, it’s the best hitters at the beginning. So, I just had to feel good about myself. … Once I felt like my fastball was going today, I felt like I could throw it wherever I wanted and get a strike with it.”
While Saturday marked the first loss of the summer for National, they have been in a similar situation in losing their second game of last year’s District 52 9-10s tournament. National bounced back to reach the championship round before losing to Hillsborough.
“Having to win back-to-back games at 10-year-olds reminded them that we have to take them one game at a time,” Luzzi said.
Getting back in the win column with Sunday’s thriller was just the catalyst they were looking for.
“A lot of momentum going into the tournament,” Leder said. “We hadn’t lost yet. That loss kind of set us back. So, now there’s a lot of momentum.”
With the win, National advances through the elimination bracket to face Madera Tuesday at Five Canyons Park. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.