CASTRO VALLEY — San Mateo National cleanup hitter Soren Blanchard had a premonition when he saw his name in Tuesday’s starting lineup.
“I’m going to hit a bomb today,” Blanchard said.
It was a bold prediction. Not only has Blanchard started just four games for National during the Little League Majors All-Stars season, the team hadn’t homered in eight games, and had just one long ball to its credit all summer long.
Blanchard and his fellow Nats broke out the power bats big time Tuesday evening at Five Canyons Park, though, homering three times en route to a 13-3 mercy-rule win over Madera in the of the Northern California Little League State All-Star Majors Tournament.
Blanchard’s first-inning solo blast didn’t exactly come as a surprise. During the San Mateo National Little League regular season, he clubbed four homers with the Padres. When No. 9 hitter Franklin Kuo added a three-run blast in the third inning, though, it marked a first as Kuo had never in his life — not even in the regular season — left the yard.
“I was a little bit surprised,” Kuo said.
Noah Greenspan added a two-run home run later in the third inning, as National sent 11 batters to the plate amid a seven run rally. The Nats took an 11-0 lead into the fourth inning, needing just three more outs to finish off a 10-run, mercy-rule win. But Madera battled back with a pair of homers of its own — a two-run shot by Mason Roberts in the fourth, followed by a solo shot by Joel Arellano in the fifth — to prolong the game.
“I think they got a little too excited and had [the big lead] too much in their heads,” National manager Dan Luzzi said. “It’s good to see them go through a little bit of a struggle … but they buckled back down.”
In the end, National celebrated in style, dialing in the walk-off win in the bottom of the fifth. With one run in and Alejandro Formosa at third base, Greenspan lifted a popup behind first. Madera second baseman Mark Huarte ran it down for the first out of the inning, but Formosa alertly tagged up from third and slid across the plate with the game-winning run.
“You never know what can happen,” National shortstop Sean Kelly said, “so you just have to play hard and never quit.”
According to Luzzi, however, it wasn’t the long ball that set the tone, but the starting pitching performance of Josh Jacobs. Considering the first inning through which Jacobs navigated, Luzzi’s assessment was right on the money.
“I think Josh, when he’s on the mound, he gives our team a certain sense of confidence,” Luzzi said. “He battles through the first inning. And once he gets out of the second inning, the momentum is just going.”
Madera set the table nicely to start the game. With one out in the first, Isaiah Sanchez and Arellano recorded back-to-back singles, followed by a steal of second by Arellano to put runners at second and third.
Jacobs responded by pounding the glove of his catcher Kuo, as the southpaw mowed through the next two hitters to strike out the side.
“The first couple innings, it looked like they couldn’t catch up with [his fastball],” Luzzi said.
After National took a 2-0 lead in the first — Greenspan got the Nats on the board with an RBI groundout prior to Blanchard’s solo bomb to straightaway left field — Jacobs navigated through more trouble in the second. A one-out infield error gave Madera its last look at a potential tying run at the plate. But Jacobs responded with another strikeout before ending the inning with a groundout to Kelly.
Jacobs worked three-plus innings, totaling five strikeouts, before giving way to the bullpen to keep his pitch count under 50, making him available to pitch Friday if necessary.
“Josh did amazing,” Luzzi said. “I had to pull him at 50 (pitches). That wasn’t my plan but when you go up big by 11 (runs), you have to do things differently.”
National added two runs in the second. Kuo had the only hit of the inning, an RBI single to score Casey Strezo. Then Jordan Kiaaina scored from third when Formosa reached on a strikeout-wild pitch.
In the third, Tommy Kane and Kelly opened the frame with an RBI apiece. Jay Leder added a thunderous double down the left-field line before Kuo sent his three-run homer back-spinning over the left field wall, and Greenspan capped the power show with a no-doubter to left-center.
With National right-hander Riley Lim on in relief, the Nats got back on track after Madera’s bats woke up thanks to a keen double play in the sixth. Following a single by Madera’s Paul Stroemer, a short hopper to the left side of the infield saw Lim dance off the mound like a cat to turn and fire a perfect feed to Kelly at second, who made a quick exchange and a high-velocity throw to first to execute the twin killing.
“I knew I had to get my hands quick,” Kelly said. “I knew he was fast … so I knew I had to have a strong throw.”
In the bottom of the frame, Jacobs set the table with an infield hit. Formosa then reached on an error, and both runners moved up two bases on a wild pitch and errant throw, allowing Jacobs to score and Formosa to reach third representing the winning run. Greenspan followed with the sacrifice popup to end it for his fourth RBI of the evening.
The victory marks National’s second straight through the Nor Cal elimination bracket. With it, the Nats advance to Thursday’s elimination bracket final at Five Canyons Park at 6 p.m., the winner of which advances to the tourney championship round beginning Friday.