NHBA stunned by West Covina Blue

WHITTIER — The Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. All-Star team played the waiting game on Thursday night. The 12-and-under Bronco team saw the first pitch to its opening game at the Pony Southern California Super Region tournament pushed back a half an hour.

The game before ran late and Newport Harbor understood why. The game featured 21 runs in seven innings, with one team squeezing out a one-run win.

Newport Harbor surprisingly found itself in a similar contest against West Covina Blue. This one involved a shocking comeback.

Newport Harbor not only lost a nine-run lead in the fifth inning, but two innings later it suffered a devastating 12-10 setback to West Covina Blue at York Field in Whittier.

Looking back it didn't appear that Newport Harbor would be involved in such a barnburner. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Newport Harbor led, 10-1. When the inning ended, the game was even.

Pablo Thompson belted a two-out grand slam to left-center field, producing almost half of West Covina Blue's nine runs in the fifth. The momentum stayed with West Covina Blue, which scored twice in the sixth to take a two-run lead.

West Covina Blue's lead held up, allowing it to stay in the winner's bracket, where it faces Chino Hills on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Newport Harbor moves to the loser's bracket to play Toluca at 9 a.m. The loser goes home for good.

"It's just baseball," Newport Harbor Manager Mike Greer said of how West Covina Blue managed to rally late for the win. "At 10-1, we're in the fifth inning, and, you know, they couldn't touch [our] lefty [starter Simon Copeman]. His pitch count was getting higher. [He was at] 74 or 75 [pitches]. He probably could've went a little bit more, but I felt like we could get out of [the fifth without him]. He walked a couple of guys [and I took him out]. I just didn't want to get him into the high 80s or 90s. I wanted to be able to bring him back on Saturday for an inning if we needed to, or possibly Sunday, and then things just got away from us.

"This one's going to sting a little bit, but, you know, it's a double-elimination bracket, and [my players] got an opportunity to show what they're made of and come back and fight their way up."

For Newport Harbor to become the second team from its organization to advance to the West Zone tournament, Greer said the team has to win four or five games in a row. Newport Harbor put itself in the precarious spot because it began the six-day, 16-team tournament the same way it did last year, dropping the opener.

Nevertheless, this year's first game saw Newport Harbor jump out in front early. The team supported Copeman, scoring one run in the first inning, and three runs in each of the third, fourth and fifth innings.

Binford played a big role, going three for four with three runs batted in and three stole bases. Braham Duncan went two for four with two RBIs, Clay Liolios finished three for five with one RBI and a double, and Copeman was two for five with a double.

Copeman impressed on the mound through the first three innings, keeping West Covina Blue hitless. During the stretch, only one runner made it into scoring position, coming in the third, but Copeman mowed down two batters, stranding the runner at second base.

The only issues with Copeman were his five walks, three to begin three innings. The ones that hurt him the most were the two walks in the fifth. Copeman walked the first batter, and then got a force out at second base. He allowed his second hit, before walking another batter. Newport Harbor pulled Copeman, who struck out seven, and by the time the fifth ended, its lead vanished.

In the sixth inning, a ground-rule double by Isaiah Lopez put West Covina Blue ahead, 11-10, giving it its first lead. West Covina Blue added another run, and Lopez closed things out. The right-hander shut Newport Harbor out in his two innings in relief.

"We never think we're out of it," West Covina Blue Manager Jesse Martinez said. "We believe."

After the 2 1/2-hour game, after outhitting West Covina Blue, 15-5, Newport Harbor had a hard time believing what happened.

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