The difference in Thursday evening’s victory by Costa Mesa American Little League’s Major Division champions was a string of fifth-inning singles, aided by an error, and two impressive performances on the mound.
And it almost wasn’t enough.
Michael Buley struck out Frank Duddridge with the tying run in scoring position to complete a 2-0 triumph over Costa Mesa National Little League’s Pirates and send the A’s to Saturday morning’s title game in the District 62 Tournament of Champions.
It ought to have been over one batter earlier. Buley’s curveball got Tristan Smith swinging at strike three, but the pitch was off-target and bounded to the left of catcher Isaiah Mamian, allowing Smith to reach base as Harrison North, who singled with one out and was bunted to second, advanced to third. Smith then stole second.
“I was a little nervous,” acknowledged Buley, who struck out six in 3 1/3 innings of relief to notch the win at Costa Mesa American’s fields at Costa Mesa High. “But I knew I could get the next guy out.”
He and starter Brady Tomko combined on a three-hitter with nine strikeouts, and successive two-out singles in the fifth by Aiden Comte, Brennan Borg and Mamian produced both runs as the A’s set up a showdown with Ocean View Little League’s Yankees, a 5-0 winner over Huntington West Little League’s Cubs, at the Ocean View Little League fields at Park View Elementary School in Huntington Beach.
“It’s amazing. It’s amazing,” Costa Mesa American manager Luis Vasquez said. “This is what we work for — right? — all season long, to get to the championship. You can go your whole Little League career and not make it here, so this is special.”
It required some special performances, starting with Tomko’s and Buley’s. Tomko didn’t give up a hit in 3 2/3 innings, but he walked two, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch. Tomko came on, with Vasquez looking to keep pitch counts down so he’d have the arms he needs Saturday, and promptly surrendered a single, but Owen Connell stepped too far toward second when right fielder Max Chadwick misplayed the ball and was picked off on a relay.
The Costa Mesa National runner-up Pirates also put runners in scoring position in the second (when Tomko followed the hit-by-pitch with a full-count walk) and the fourth (when Miles Dodge doubled to left with one out), but couldn’t bring them home.
“Our top [of the lineup] hasn’t been producing for a couple games. That’s baseball ...,” Pirates manager Steve Cirillo said. “It’s tough. This was the kids’ second straight day with a game, and I think they’re a little burned out. We had some big emotional highs [with two one-run wins] the last couple of games, but they put all their effort in, and it is what it is. It’s baseball. There’s a winner and a loser.”
The A’s had just three hits before the fifth off Dodge, who struck out five in an efficient complete-game performance, and the best was Buley’s one-out triple to right-center in the fourth. He was thrown out at the plate, running on his own, when Tomko laid down a bunt.
The winning sequence started with Comte’s bunt single, and Borg followed with a drive to left that Nico Yiramontes misplayed for an error, which allowed Comte to circle the bases and Borg to take second. Mamian’s single up the middle brought home Borg.
“I was thinking I’ve got to pull this off for my team,” Borg said. “I looked back at the dugout and I saw all those amazing teammates that I’m playing for — not just myself — and when I pulled that hit, I was glad for me and all of my teammates.”
That set the scene for the sixth. When Smith reached on the wild pitch, the A’s were confident.
“Last game went the same way,” Vasquez said. “[Ocean View] had the bases loaded, we’re up by one run, and we strike out the last batter. Our guys are good, and they stay positive, and they pick each other up.”
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