A ninth-inning rally that brought the tying run to the plate ended just short of a comeback for the Easton Elite Dodgers at the Stan Musial Western Regional Tournament.
The Tujunga-based 19-and-under team, which features a handful of local players and coaches, fell in the opening round of action, 7-5, to the San Jose Fontanetti at Palo Alto’s Baylands Athletic Center on Friday afternoon.
With the defeat, the reigning tournament champs are on the cusp of being knocked out of the double-elimination tournament and must defeat three teams Saturday to keep their repeat hopes alive, beginning at 10 a.m. versus the host Palo Alto Oaks.
“We’re a better team than what we played like and we’ll have to do better Saturday,” said Dodgers Coach Rick Freire, who is also a Vaquero Little League coach. “We’ll come back Saturday and have to win three games. I know we can do it.”
Should the Dodgers defeat the Oaks, they would then have the potential for two more games Saturday, beginning with a 1 p.m. contest and culminating with a final contest at 7.
As for Friday, Easton (26-14) appeared finished, trailing, 7-2, heading into the bottom of ninth.
Yet, the Metro League champs showed some moxie in rallying to score three runs on a single from Steven Mendoza and on a double from Andrew Gold to pull within 7-5.
With Gold in scoring position and two outs, Easton’s next batter, Michael Noreiga, ripped a ball right at the opposing third baseman for the game’s final out.
“It was a shot, but the guy made a great play,” Freire said of the game-ending out.
While the Dodgers finished with five runs, the squad ultimately did not support starting pitcher Cy Scott, who allowed five runs, but only two of which were earned, in 7 1/3 innings of work that included nine strikeouts.
The Dodgers only had one hit by the start of the seventh inning and trailed, 4-0.
Easton made its first offensive push in the bottom of the seventh when the team halved its deficit on run-scoring singles from Mendoza and JD Krauskopf. The inning may have continued if a Dodgers player wasn’t called out for runner’s interference, which resulted in the final out of the seventh.
“I don’t know what it is, but when you go up north or back east, this always happens,” Freire said. “There always seems to be a discrepancy and four or five horrible calls. I hate to use that as an excuse, but that’s the way it is.”
San Jose answered with two runs in the seventh in going up, 6-2, and eventually taking a 7-2 advantage into the final half inning.
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.