A fire truck siren could be heard in the distance right before Fountain Valley PONY Mustang All-Star Angel Valadez was ready to throw the first pitch Thursday night.
Spectators at Santana Regional Park who looked to the southwest could see plenty of smoke as well. A fire, dubbed the Skyline Fire, was burning in Tin Mine Canyon, just a couple of miles away from the park in Corona.
The wind ultimately pushed the smoke and ash away from the park, allowing Fountain Valley to get in its PONY West Zone Mustang 10-and-under Super Region tournament opener against Orangecrest White of Riverside.
Fountain Valley again showcased an opportunistic and formidable offense, earning an 8-3 victory to stay in the winner’s bracket. Fountain Valley will play either Simi Valley or South Bay in its next game, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. back at Santana Regional Park.
Fountain Valley coach Steve Rittenhouse was not only happy with the win. He said because Valadez and relievers Nick Grissom and Brody Schatzman each threw less than 35 pitches, they will be eligible to pitch again on Saturday.
Fountain Valley, which averaged more than 15 runs per game in three wins at the regional tournament last weekend at Hicks Canyon Park in Irvine, had a “small ball” approach at times. Five of Fountain Valley’s six hits were singles. But Fountain Valley also rallied from a 2-0 deficit early after Orangecrest White scored twice in the top of the first inning. Nikolas Garcia-Ramirez and Efren Urrea each hit one-out singles, and each would eventually come around to score.
“I got a little bit of jitters,” Grissom said, “but our team managed to pull through it.”
Fountain Valley tied the score in the bottom of the second. Manoah Leiato reached on an infield error with one out, stole second and went to third on a balk. He would score on Vincent Maza’s groundout to second.
Tonga Uhila was then hit by a pitch, stole second and came home as Valadez laced an RBI double to right.
Andrew Castillo singled to left in the third inning, the first of his two hits. He came home as Schatzman grounded out to second, and Fountain Valley took its first lead at 3-2.
“We start slow, but then we do pretty good and we hit line drives,” said Uhila, who reached base three times and scored two runs. “I’m happy because this is only my second year in All-Stars and I made it this far.”
Fountain Valley then broke the game open with four runs in the fourth inning. Meza and Uhila led off with back-to-back infield singles, and each stole to put runners on second and third. Valadez brought home Meza with yet another groundout to second.
Uhila scored on a wild pitch before Connor Rittenhouse worked a full-count walk. One out later, Castillo slapped an RBI single to shallow right-center to score another run, and Castillo himself would score on an error when Luke Scuncio’s grounder to shortstop resulted in a throw that sailed over the first baseman’s head.
With an 8-3 lead in the sixth, Fountain Valley then ended the game with two standout defensive plays. With a runner on first, Orangecrest White’s Anthony Corona hit a one-out double to the wall in center. But a strong relay from Conner Rittenhouse to Scuncio to Valadez got the lead runner out at third base.
Corona went to third on a balk, but he was picked off by Schatzman. Castillo, the catcher, provided the game-ending tag at home.
“We had to make adjustments, playing a team we know nothing about,” Steve Rittenhouse said. “We were trying to get as many baserunners as possible, and be aggressive on the base paths. At the end of the day, you need to score more runs than the other team to get that ‘W.’ We do a lot of situational things to get runners on base, advance runners and keep the pressure on the other team.”