Costa Mesa National Little League Majors Division All-Stars players pose with mayor Sandra Genis and the trophy after their win over the American All-Stars in decisive third game of the Mayor’s Cup series, at TeWinkle Middle School in Costa Mesa on Saturday, July 14, 2018. Nationals won 2-0.(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)
After a combined 27 runs through the first two games of the 2018 Mayor’s Cup, a pitcher’s duel unfolded on Saturday in the series finale at TeWinkle Middle School.
Michael Joyce III struck out 11 of 18 batters and carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning for the Costa Mesa American Little League Majors Division All-Stars, but it was Max McNiff and Costa Mesa National that would emerge victorious.
McNiff tossed a six-inning shutout, allowing six hits in his final Little League game to help lead Costa Mesa National to a 2-0 victory and secure Mayor’s Cup bragging rights.
“Pitching and defense 100 percent,” Costa Mesa National coach Steve Cirillo remarked on the difference from the first two games. “It was a defensive battle. Their pitcher, Joyce, pitched fabulously. Max pitched very well too. It was an amazing defensive battle.”
Costa Mesa National struggled to find success at the plate for the majority of the game. Heading into the fifth inning, Joyce had struck out nine of the previous 10 batters, having not allowed a baserunner all day.
That changed during a decisive bottom of the fifth.
With one out in the inning, Cole Lefebvre broke up the no-hitter with an infield single that ricocheted off Joyce. Joyce’s attempt on the runner at first sailed wide, allowing Lefebvre to advance to second base. Next up was Xavier Shoda, who laced an RBI double to right field to drive in the go-ahead run.
“I extended my swing, followed through and got it right in the gap,” said Shoda.
Hudson Ortiz would drive in Shoda with an RBI single up the middle during the ensuing at-bat to provide a slight cushion.
These three consecutive hits marked Costa Mesa National’s only offensive production on the day. In a game that proved to be the epitome of a defensive battle, it was all they would need.
Costa Mesa American did not go away quietly, though, with its best scoring opportunity coming during the final frame.
A pair of singles from Luke Hohman and Kyle Crowley presented a bases-loaded opportunity for Matthew Anderson with two outs in the top of the sixth.
With the go-ahead run on first base and the opponent’s most dangerous hitter at the plate, McNiff buckled down, forcing a pop-up to close out the Mayor’s Cup.
“The two pitchers were out there dominating,” Costa Mesa American Coach Todd Cowley said. “We hit the ball a bunch, but we hit it right to the opponent. They made some plays at the end, and we didn’t. That’s what it came down to, and that’s what it should come down to. Bases loaded with our best hitter up, you can’t ask for a better chance.”
Costa Mesa National dropped the first game of the series 8-1 on Monday, before bouncing back on Wednesday with a 10-8 victory to set up Saturday’s winner-take-all showdown. For Cirillo, his team’s resiliency throughout the Mayor’s Cup provided an appropriate ending to an adversity-filled season.
“It was a fitting win to end the season,” Cirillo said. “It’s been a struggle this season for all of us. We had a couple tough losses in TOC and All-Stars. To just bring this home and win was very fitting for these boys and girl. It’s fabulous.”
With the exception of five players on the Costa Mesa National roster, Saturday marked the final Little League game for these kids.
But while their time in Little League may be over, for many, their journey in baseball is only beginning.
“We’re looking ahead to PONY,” McNiff said. “Then maybe beyond that, through high school and college.”
JOSH CRISWELL is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @joshccriswell