GLENDALE — The Burbank Nationals major baseball team won all 19 of its games during the regular season. So when coach Thomas Magoon's squad lost its opening-round contest of the Tri-Cities Tournament, it still believed it could win six straight to capture the title.
The Nationals are one win away from finishing a memorable season with a championship.
Despite allowing a crushing solo home run in the bottom of the first inning, the Nationals rallied once again, riding Blaine Traxel's dominant pitching performance and taking advantage of a pair of errors in the top of the sixth to defeat Crescenta Valley Gangi, 2-1, on Wednesday at Babe Herman Field.
Gangi and the Nationals will play an if-necessary title game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Babe Herman Field.
“We just had to take it game by game, inning by inning, pitch by pitch,” Magoon said. “There is no reason why we couldn't drop down and win out.”
Magoon needed Traxel to give his team a chance to play for the title.
Gangi's Justyn Chang, his team's ace on the mound, blasted a 0-1 pitch to left field to give his team a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Traxel replaced Joe Metcalf in the second inning and shut down Gangi.
In five innings of work, he threw 60 pitches, 50 for strikes. He allowed just two hits, walked one batter and struck out 11.
“My curveball was working today,” Traxel said. “We've been here before. I was thinking we could come back.”
Of the 10 balls Traxel threw, four were intentional, all to Chang in the bottom of the fifth inning with the score tied at 1, putting runners at first and second. The next Gangi hitter popped out to first to end the inning.
“That was one of the most dominant performances I have ever seen,” Magoon said. “Blaine is the ace.”
Added Gangi Coach Thomas Harbolt: “Blaine throws a good five miles per hour faster than Justyn. On a small field like this, he's hard to hit. He mixes his pitches really well.”
As effective as Traxel was, he still needed his team to score.
The Nationals tied the score in the fourth when Carter Kessinger came home on a passed ball. Kessinger started the inning with a hit that took a high bounce just behind third base and rolled into the left-field corner, good for a double. After a sacrifice bunt, he raced home and barely beat the catcher's throw to Chang.
Two innings later, the Nationals didn't produce a hit, but it manufactured a run.
With no outs, Traxel reached base on an error by the third baseman, putting runners at first and second after Chance Van Hook walked on eight pitches. Van Hook was doubled up at second after a liner was snagged by the second baseman, leaving Traxel at first.
Chris Magoon fell behind 0-2 on Chang. On Chang's final pitch, his 85th of the night, Magoon hit a ball between the third baseman and the mound.
Chang gathered the ball, but his throw was just above the first baseman's glove. Traxel scored all the way from first for the winning run.
“I tell the kids, put the ball in play,” Thomas Magoon said. “They have to field it, catch it and throw it. All we have to do is put the ball in play.
“It was a classic. If it was on ESPN it would be on ESPN Classic tomorrow.”
Harbolt was proud of his team's performance, despite the errors.
“We played a great game,” he said. “The difference was we made errors. The performance was phenomenal.”
Neither coach expects a 2-1 game in the if-necessary final.
“Neither team will have their ace,” Harbolt said. “It will not be a 2-1 game. I think the game will depend on who commits the least errors.”