The Little League baseball players of today grow up with great exposure to the game.
Of course, there is a temptation to emulate the big moments – bottom of the ninth, bases loaded – those kinds of situations. Kids practice being on the big stage constantly, but the imagination cannot compete with the actual moment.
As the Little League Section 10 Tournament opener between Ocean View and Santa Margarita National headed into extra innings, someone was going to walk away with a memory.
Santa Margarita National catcher Ben Finnegan came through in a clutch moment. His double drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning, and Santa Margarita National defeated Ocean View 5-4 at Marty Russo Youth Athletic Park in Mission Viejo.
“It felt great being able to come through with a hit and put my team ahead and get the game-winner,” said Finnegan, who had his interview cut short after he was ceremonially doused in a shower of water.
Brady Ford knocked in the first run of the game for Santa Margarita National, scoring Will Casarietti with a single in the first inning.
The first four batters reached for Ocean View in the bottom half of the first. Matt Haidl led off with a double, Freddie Angiuli singled and Luke Pratali reached on an error. All three would score in the inning. Tyler Twardowski was hit by a pitch, Casey Flynn had a sacrifice fly and Nick Murrey drove in the final run with a ground out.
Shortstop Tyler Dunning starred for Santa Margarita National, the District 68 champion. He slugged his team into the lead in the second inning with a three-run home run to left-center field.
Casarietti and Finnegan also came around to score on the two-out home run, which gave Santa Margarita National a 4-3 lead.
“I think there were two strikes,” said Dunning, who had two hits to go with two intentional walks and a hit by pitch. “I was expecting another curveball because [Pratali] had already thrown me four in a row, so I just choked up on my bat and made solid contact, and it worked.”
Dunning also made a difference in the field. He momentarily kept his team’s lead intact when he caught a line drive off the bat of Hudson Espinoza with two runners on to end the third inning.
In extra innings, Dunning extended the game in making a grab around his shoelaces to retire Haidl to send the game to the ninth frame.
That is where Santa Margarita National broke through, with Finnegan delivering a one-out double that rolled to the wall in center field, scoring Ryan Lopas, who started the inning at second base with the international tiebreaker rule in effect.
“Back and forth all day, and then Dunning hit the three-run home run,” Ocean View manager Dean Haidl said. “That was really the play of the game. Their defense was phenomenal. Unbelievable defensive plays all day.”
Evan Hall made a couple of diving catches in center field for Santa Margarita National.
Donovan Farrell made a nice catch running back toward the fence in left field to rob Mike DeFrancesca of an extra-base hit in the third inning.
The speed of third baseman Casey Flynn helped Ocean View tie the game in the fifth inning. He legged out an infield single, and he eventually scored from third base on a wild pitch.
Nick Murrey threw the last six innings for Ocean View, allowing one run on five hits while striking out eight. He issued two intentional walks, both to Dunning.
Santa Margarita National plays Aliso Viejo at 10 a.m. on Sunday at Marty Russo Youth Athletic Park.
Ocean View will play East Anaheim at 1 p.m. in the double elimination tournament.
“We’ve got to win four in a row,” Dean Haidl said. “I told the kids if they keep their heads high and they come out here [to compete], we can play with any of these teams.”
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.