COSTA MESA — Connor Brown sprawled out during team pictures after the game, his right elbow resting on the mound on which had he just turned in a dominating performance.
Soon he had the Mayor's Cup in his hands. He took the trophy into the outfield at Costa Mesa High, planting a couple of kisses on it for effect.
"I just see it on SportsCenter a lot," Brown said, grinning.
Nobody questioned it, and nobody had to ask what Brown could do for the Costa Mesa National Little League All-Stars. The right-handed pitcher came up huge, helping Costa Mesa National defeat Costa Mesa American, 2-0, Tuesday in the third and deciding game of the annual Mayor's Cup.
Costa Mesa National won the Mayor's Cup, which began in 1997, for the fifth straight year. Brown was a big reason why after he threw 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits. He struck out eight and walked just one.
"We had a talk before the game," Costa Mesa National Manager Cisco Rios said. "I said, 'This is your last game ever. You've got to step up. Do you want to go out a winner or do you want to go out a loser?' I think he proved it on the mound that he wanted to win this game."
It was the third time in six days Brown had matched up with his Costa Mesa American counterpart, Evan Larsen. Larsen got the better of the matchup Thursday, striking out 13 in a one-hit shutout as Costa Mesa American took the first game of the Mayor's Cup, 2-0. But Costa Mesa National rallied for a 2-1 victory Saturday, setting up the rubber match.
Costa Mesa American Manager Eric Larsen said his son and Brown also pitched against each other in a travel-ball game Saturday in Fountain Valley. Neither pitcher factored into that decision in the game matching Brown's 5-Star Dirtdogs team and Evan Larsen's Blue Wave squad.
Brown certainly factored into Tuesday's win. He did so at the plate as well, where he was two for two with a double. He drove in both Costa Mesa National runs, the first coming in the top of the first inning when his single to right scored Matt Palma.
He struck again in the fourth inning after Noah Mayne, the son of former
Brown fouled off two pitches with a 2-2 count before stroking a hard-hit double through the infield, all the way to the wall in right-center. Costa Mesa American appeared to have a play on Mayne at the plate, but the throw was off-line.
Costa Mesa American's best chance to score came in the bottom of the first. Grady Conner got an infield single with one out, then Larsen and James Barton both reached on infield errors to load the bases. But Brown got out of the jam, striking out the next two batters.
He finished the game strong as well, retiring 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.
"He definitely had our number," Eric Larsen said. "In the fifth inning, we struck out three times looking. He does have a tendency to be wild when he's off his game, but he was not wild at all. To get out of that first inning, that was big."
Brown reached his 85-pitch limit with one out in the sixth, so Rios called on Tristin Ospina to close out the game.
Rios said Ospina also closed Saturday's second game of the Mayor's Cup and had two big hits to help Costa Mesa National rally for victory.
Ospina's first two pitches were balls, so Costa Mesa National catcher Riley Lord went out to talk to his pitcher.
"I said, 'Don't let them get in your head,'" Lord said. "[I said] 'You're stronger than them. Just man up here and hit my glove'… He did an excellent job. He stepped up a lot."
Ospina threw three straight strikes to strike out the batter looking. He hit Garrett Kerley to bring the potential tying run to the plate, but he then induced a game-ending foul out to Lord to end the game.
Evan Larsen also had a hit for Costa Mesa American, and Jesse Campbell drew a walk. Chandler Littley, Carter Chapman, Paul King, Tony Leal, Ray Welsher, Adrian Andrio and Race Chambers also contributed.
"Coming into this game we felt like we had this series," Eric Larsen said. "The home-field advantage stacked up for us, having two games here with four days rest and [Evan] getting to go twice. We figured we'd be the favorites … so close. The last game we actually won was in '06. At least we won one. At least we got our name once on the trophy."
Carson Letterman and Drake Siegel added hits for Costa Mesa National, which celebrated winning the Mayor's Cup for yet another year. Devin Pacheco, Colin Gardner, Felicia Rios, Kyle Fitzgerald and Nick Torres also helped Costa Mesa National keep the hardware — and bragging rights.
To some, the trophy felt good enough to kiss.