TUJUNGA — With darkness falling and the game in extra innings Tuesday, the Burbank Junior All-Stars scored three runs in the top of the eighth and were just three outs away from capturing the District 16 Tournament championship.
But Crescenta Valley had no thoughts of packing it in.
Taking advantage of four walks in the bottom of the eighth, Crescenta Valley battled back, and when Robert McNelis scored from third base on a high chopper to second, it had completed an improbable 15-14 comeback at Tujunga Little League Fields.
Crescenta Valley was able to defeat Burbank after suffering a 15-0 tournament loss Sunday in the teams’ initial matchup.
The win keeps the season alive for Crescenta Valley, as it will take on Burbank at 5 p.m. today at Tujunga in an if-necessary championship game.
The two teams not only battled on offense in the contest, but Crescenta Valley and Burbank combined to turn five double plays. It was also a game that featured 11 pitchers.
Crescenta Valley — which jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning — battled back from five-run and two three-run deficits to pull out the victory.
“I am just so proud of these guys,” Crescenta Valley Coach Chris Sanford said. “I’ve told the team the whole way that if we strive for perfection along the way we’re going to catch excellence. And that excellence came with their performance tonight.
“We are just coming together as a team, and we haven’t reached our peak yet.”
Burbank Coach Mike Lockheimer was disappointed that his team wasn’t able to hold on to its leads against Crescenta Valley.
“I don’t want to take anything away from them, but we just couldn’t close the door when we had the opportunity,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. Even with the big victory we had against them the other night, they are a quality team that cannot be overlooked.”
With the scored tied at 11 after seven innings, Burbank’s Brennan Brown drove in a run on a single to center and Randy Catlett delivered a two-run home run to center to put their team up by three, 14-11.
However, in the bottom off the eighth, two Burbank pitchers surrendered three consecutive walks to load the bases. After a strikeout, McNelis walked to cut the deficit to two. Justin Rountree then drove in a run with an infield hit and Max Meyer followed with a single to center to tie the score at 14.
The next batter, Frank Alsamman, worked the count to 2-1 before powering a bouncing shot to second base. When the infielder mishandled the ball, McNelis motored home and slid under the tag to plate the winning run.
“I was just ready for a fastball and I was ready to go when the ball was hit,” McNelis said. “Although I was ready, I was also nervous. When I saw the ball go off the bat and the second baseman messed it up, I just ran as fast as I could.”
Jacob Poole was two for two with two doubles and two runs scored, Rountree was three for five with a walk, two runs scored and two runs batted in and Shawn Kim had a solo home run for Crescenta Valley.
After falling behind, 3-0, Burbank tallied two runs in the second and six in the third to take a commanding 8-3 advantage. Burbank took advantage of four walks and two errors to tally its runs in the third.
Crescenta Valley came back with three runs of its own in the bottom of the sixth to knot the score at 11.
Brown was two for four with two runs scored and two RBI and Catlett was four for five with a home run, double, three runs scored and four RBI for Burbank.
With the championship on the line today, both coaches are expecting their squads to step up.
“Hopefully they will come with a fire in their belly,” Lockheimer said. “They are going to have to come to play.”
Said Sanford: “We have to just keep it going. We have to play like we played in this game. We want to represent District 16 in the sectionals.”