NEWPORT BEACH — As the last player off the bench, when it mattered the most, Newport Rib Company's Gabe Katz had a last-minute chance to be a hero.
His situation was the stuff dreams are made of: two outs, runners on second and third, bottom of the sixth and final regular inning in a championship game.
And on a field named for pro baseball player agent Scott Boras, Katz was pure money. He hit the game-winning single and put the dramatic finishing touch to a 1-0 win Saturday over Pelican Hill, in an instant classic of a Newport Little League Majors Division championship game.
"I had two [game-winning hits] this year, including this one," Katz said. "It was great, because I won it for my team."
Katz also showed a positive attitude toward coming off the pine for Newport Rib Company (5-1 in the playoffs).
"It's hard, but you gotta do it and it's fun," Katz said.
Katz's hard-hit ball went right off the upper right leg of Pelican Hill relief pitcher Jack Hopkins, who made a quick attempt to try to field the ball. It rolled to an infielder for Pelican Hill, who filled in for Hopkins at shortstop. That player threw the ball to the third baseman, in an attempt to get Talal Benahmed – another player who came off the bench – for the third out to end the inning. But the ball got past the third baseman and rolled into foul territory, while Devon Linkon scored the winning run.
Pelican Hill finished 4-1 in the playoffs.
"The third time's a charm," Linkon said of the team's previous chances to win a title.
Hopkins, a 10-year-old who was the only fourth-grader in the league this season, allowed Linkon to reach on an error to lead the inning off. Hopkins struck out the next two hitters, before he hit Benahmed with a pitch that got away.
"It was off of my glove," Hopkins said. "[It hurts] a little bit. It's pretty hard."
Newport Rib Company manager Jeff Fisher, a 46-year-old who acts almost as youthful as his players, had some passionate words after the game.
"That was crazy," Fisher said. "Honest to God, we're a team of destiny and I'll tell you why. We hand-picked every kid we knew. We put these kids together and they played the best they could, we'd be here today and we'd win."
Fisher also shared an inspiring story of one of his players, first baseman Harry Dill, who went 0-for-1 at the plate with one walk and he had several putouts at first.
"We had a boy who had a brain tumor near his head," Fisher said of Dill. "Before this season started, he couldn't move his left hand and his left leg. His dad [assistant coach Rick Dill] is one of my best buddies. I'd draft him no matter what. That kid came back and he almost won the league's home run derby. He had the game-winning hit in our last game, which we won, 2-1. That was just like this one, he hit a single in the bottom of the sixth."
Newport Rib Company winning pitcher Matt Thompson (three innings, no hits, three strikeouts, no walks ) combined with lefty starter Dylan Cowan (three innings, two hits, two strikeouts and no walks) for the shutout.
"We needed to pitch a shutout to help our offense out ," Thompson said.
Starting pitcher Scott Svendsen, son of Pelican Hill manager Bob Svendsen, who was on crutches due to a back surgery, threw a gem. Scott Svendsen allowed three hits and no runs over five innings pitched, with eight strikeouts and one walk.
After the game, Fisher had his team do its customary drop-down push-ups, chanting "How many wins did we get?" To which his team replied in unison, "six games!"
Fisher finished the postgame celebration drill with, "When do we quit?"
His team: "Never!"
Along with Pelican Hill, they never did.