Walk-off homer gives Huntington Valley Little League Section 10 title
In the early innings, Huntington Valley Little League starting pitcher Justin Garcia’s pitch count was steadily rising.
He only needed to see one pitch to send his team on to the state tournament.
Garcia hit a two-run, walk-off home run to give Huntington Valley a 4-3 win over Aliso Viejo in the Section 10 championship game on Wednesday at Fountain Valley Sports Park.
“I knew as soon as I hit it, I hit it out,” Garcia said. “You could tell by my celebration.”
Before his game-winning shot to left-center field, Garcia tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts.
An 85-pitch limit loomed large over Garcia’s start, especially after he threw 52 pitches through the first two innings. Brendon Krans charged a ground ball at third base to retire Tate Fettig with the bases loaded to end the second.
Second baseman Charlie Stubin was also a key in the field. He made all three putouts in a seven-pitch fourth inning for Garcia.
When Garcia was lifted for Ely Mason in the fifth, Stubin caught a line drive off the bat of Henry Drews to strand another runner in scoring position.
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” Garcia said of Stubin’s defense. “He made every single play that was at him, and everybody else. Everybody else did good.”
Huntington Valley opened the scoring in the third. Brady Guth was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, Luke Miller reached on a fielder’s choice, and Krans homered to center field for a 2-0 lead.
The score stayed the same until the top of the sixth. Aliso Viejo ended the shutout when Avery Bateman scored on a two-out single by Chance Martin.
A bases-loaded walk by Brett Burnor tied it up. Then Dylan Bright was hit by a pitch to give Aliso Viejo its first lead at 3-2.
“They know there’s 18 outs in a game,” Aliso Viejo coach Jeremiah Yencho said. “We’ve got to play all 18 outs, and they’ve done it in this tournament already two other times, and they were going to use every single out.
“They scored three runs with two outs, which was a testament to them. They went up there, had a plan at the plate, and really worked the count, made them come to us.”
Bright fielded six ground balls at shortstop without making an error. He turned a pair of double plays, fielding the ball and taking it to the second-base bag before throwing it to first on both occasions.
Krans and Mason each had two hits for Huntington Valley. Simon Andersen also had an infield hit.
The Huntington Valley 12-and-under All-Stars have gone 9-0 in elimination games this summer, which includes the District 62 and Section 10 tournaments.
The state tournament will also be held at Fountain Valley Sports Park. Huntington Valley opens against Villa Park on Saturday at 3 p.m.
“I’ve got to give it up to these boys,” Huntington Valley coach Clint Guth said. “There’s no quit in them, and I think they like to play from behind, but I would really say in this state tournament, I would rather not start off with a loss.”
Stubin found it hard to explain his team’s success in elimination games.
“We just play better when we have to win,” Stubin said, ending his interview with a round of applause from onlookers when he said he thinks his team can make it to the Little League World Series.
There had been a buildup to 2020 for Huntington Valley Little League, which had a team that had gone as far as it could go in consecutive years.
Unfortunately for that group of kids and so many others, their final year together was wiped away by the coronavirus pandemic.
Holding his home-run ball in hand postgame, Krans said, “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life,” which brings into focus moments that were missed last year. Krans is grateful to be back playing the game he loves.
“I feel so lucky,” Krans said. “I mean, I’m with probably the best group I’ve been with in my life. It’s so awesome.”
Making an appearance at the sectional tournament would seem to be old hat for Huntington Valley Little League.
In 2018, Gage Everson, a player on a team coached by Tony Armand, coined the phrase “drop tanks and bang” to describe his team’s power at the plate following a win in the Section 10 tournament.
For Huntington Valley Little League, a new chapter is being written, one with more power displays and a flair for the dramatic.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.
All the latest on Orange County from Orange County.
Get our free TimesOC newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Daily Pilot.