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Newport Harbor All-Stars fall to Tustin at PONY Mustang tournament

A late surge was not enough to overcome a forgettable start for the Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. Mustang All-Star team on Saturday in the PONY Mustang 9-and-under Section tournament at Currie Middle School in Tustin.

Newport Harbor fell behind 6-0 over the course of the first three innings, a hole that proved too large to climb out of against a talented Tustin select team. But while host Tustin ultimately won the contest by a score of 6-3, Newport Harbor coach Jimmy Cefalia sees a silver-lining in his team’s resiliency in the late innings.

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“I hope they can bounce back,” Cefalia said. “We have to win two more games to make it through, but I think they’ll be pumped up. This was the best team in the entire tournament. I think we showed pretty well, so I think we’ll have a chance against the next couple teams.”

Newport Harbor returns to action on Sunday at 10 a.m., looking to avoid elimination. It will need two consecutive victories to advance to Monday’s runner-up game and secure a trip to the Region tournament.

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Tustin seized control early on Saturday with aggressive team base-running and a strong pitching performance from Daniel Cazavalho.

Cazavalho, who allowed two runs and four hits with three strikeouts in four-plus innings pitched, set the tone with a three-up, three-down top of the first. Newport Harbor starting pitcher Liam Casey struck out the first batter he faced in the bottom half of the inning, but the tide would swiftly shift in Tustin’s favor.

Two hits, a defensive error and five stolen bases later, Tustin was up 2-0 heading to the second inning. The Legends would carry over this dominance on the base paths throughout the day, swiping a total of 16 bases.

“That is kind of our method of operation,” Tustin Coach Vince Wilson said. “We really thrive on that style of play. We’re a very aggressive team.”

Newport Harbor continued to struggle at the plate in the early innings, and was held hitless by Cazavalho through the first three.

“That was a phenomenal effort,” Wilson said. “He really doesn’t see the mound for us that much, so for him to come out and give us that type of quality start was amazing for us.”

The effort was not limited to the mound, either. Cazavalho — who typically plays left field or first base — walked in his first plate appearance before roping a two-run triple to the fence to give Tustin a 6-0 lead in the third. He also stole two bases on the afternoon.

Newport Harbor did not fold, though, despite staring down a significant deficit.

James Cefalia led off the top of the fourth with a single, and proceeded to steal back-to-back bases. Next up was Casey, who drove in Cefailia from third on a fielder’s choice.

Newport Harbor buckled down on the mound and in the field as well. Mason McCollum and Cefaila entered the game in relief, combining to strike out four batters over two scoreless innings.

With a critical two-run fifth, the door opened for a comeback attempt.

McCollum drove in John Peterson on an RBI single with no outs in the inning, spurring a pitching change from Tustin, who inserted Blake Wilson in relief. McCollum was thrown out moments later attempting to steal third, however, and despite loading the bases with one out, Newport Harbor was only able to muster one more run in the inning on an RBI single from Shane McKibbin.

Wilson closed the game out in the sixth, striking out three straight Newport Harbor batters to bring his total to five.

Regardless of the outcome, Cefalia is proud of the way his team competed down the stretch.

“They were resilient,” Cefalia said. “They fought back. That team is a really good team. They’re a select team, so they play all year-round. That was a good test for us. I’m proud of them. They hung in there and fought back. We had our chances.”

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