NHBA Bronco starts with win

IRVINE — Nearly everyone on the Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. Bronco All-Star team can pitch.

This proves especially useful in postseason tournaments, in which a team may face more than one game in a day.

"We go eight deep on the mound," Newport Harbor Manager Mike Greer said. "We're pretty strong on the hill. We've got a lot of ones, twos, threes and fours."

Logan Pence started Thursday night's PONY Southern California Central Region Tournament opener on the mound. Clay Liolios came on for valuable relief. And Simon Copeman shut the door, as the NHBA Bronco squad earned a 4-1 victory over Placentia "B" at Hicks Canyon Park.

Newport Harbor will play rival Placentia "A" in a Region tournament semifinal at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Win, and NHBA is in the title game on Sunday. Lose, and NHBA will have an elimination game on Saturday at 7 p.m. Two of the teams in the double-elimination, eight-team Region tournament will make the Super Region tournament, which begins July 17 in Whittier.

Placentia "A" is a familiar foe. That's the team that Newport Harbor beat at this stage last year in the 11-and-under age group, to make the Super Region tournament. The teams have split meetings this year, with Newport Harbor beating Placentia in its own tournament title game.

"I know they're hungry to knock us down," Greer said. "They've got some kids who can swing the sticks too, so Saturday will be a good duel."

NHBA, which won the District tournament in Cypress on June 29 to earn a bye through the Section tournament and into the Region tournament, is plenty motivated. The goal is to improve on the Super Region showing from last year and make the West Zone tournament. That's a place only one NHBA team has ever been; Liolios was a member of that 11U squad in 2012 which came close to advancing to the Bronco World Series.

This year's team appears to have the skills. The winners pounded out 12 hits in Thursday night's game, and everyone got on base at least once. Copeman, Liolios, Braham Duncan and Trey Genova each had two hits. And NHBA's aggressiveness on the bases was beneficial, as the team was successful in all seven of its stolen-base attempts.

Duncan's single to left-center in the top of the third scored Copeman, plating the game's first run. Luke Bashore provided the second, hitting a home run to left-center to open the top of the fourth.

Newport Harbor scored twice more in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of a Placentia "B" error. Copeman had the big hit with two outs, scoring Pence and Chase Greer.

Kyle Binford added a single and stolen base for the winners, and Luke Hatfield had a ground-rule double. Hatfield also made a key defensive play in the bottom of the seventh, making a diving catch for the first out.

It helped Copeman, a lefty who came in as a relief pitcher with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. Placentia had just scored a run, as Aaron Milby's infield single scored Tim Koprowski. The potential go-ahead run came to the plate, but Copeman stopped the rally and got a strikeout to end the inning.

"[I wanted to] just get it done," Copeman said. "Just get out of there so we can get back to the bats, and score some more runs.

He allowed a leadoff walk to Placentia's Jake Okamoto in the bottom of the seventh, but worked around it. After Hatfield's diving catch, Copeman struck out the next two batters to end the game.

"The pitching staff did a fantastic job," Mike Greer said. "The umpire had a tight strike zone, and we pitched around it and we pitched out of some jams. We've got some big arms on the hill. They got it done, and we played good defense behind them."