Little League: Wild rally comes up short

WESTMINSTER — Down six runs early, confidence could have waned for the Costa Mesa National Little League 10- and 11-year-old All-Stars Wednesday.

Not only was Costa Mesa National in a big hole, but it was against the host Westminster club that had won the teams' previous meeting just four days earlier.

But Costa Mesa wouldn't give up. More than that, the team almost finished off a stirring comeback at Johnson Middle School.

Westminster won the game, 8-7, ending Costa Mesa National's season after scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth. But what Costa Mesa National Manager Brian Lord will probably remember more was the way his team battled back.

"[Westminster] came out and they went up 6-0 on us," Lord said. "I'm very proud of the kids. They could have easily gave up, you know, but they showed a lot of heart and courage in not giving up. They played as a team. Sometimes things happen like that at the end, but they've got to hold their heads up. They represented Costa Mesa very well, so I'm very proud of them."

Costa Mesa National starter Jake Ponsford pitched into the sixth. But, with his pitch count nearing the 85-pitch limit, he was relieved by Nick Torres after both Westminster's Brandin Edwards (walk) and Cesar Rodriguez (bunt single) reached base.

Adam Luoto's single to center tied the score, and Cade Nash's single to center scored Rodriguez for the walk-off win.

But it was easy for Lord to see the positives. Ponsford settled down after a rough start, keeping his team in the game. It wasn't a perfect game, like teammate Colin Gardner threw in Monday's 11-0 victory over Costa Mesa American, but Ponsford held Westminster scoreless for three straight innings after the second.

The Costa Mesa bats heated up. Kieran Headington led off the third with a bunt single, and an out later he was driven in on Kyle Fitzgerald's double. Fitzgerald would later socre on a wild pitch.

Ponsford and Gardner both walked, before Jeffrey Alai's clutch two-out single drove both of them in and cut the deficit to 6-4. But Costa Mesa National wasn't done, scoring three more times in the fourth to take the lead.

Spencer Stern and Headington led off with back-to-back walks. Devin Pacheco reached on a fielder's choice but, after Headington scored on a passed ball, Pacheco was eventaully thrown out at home on a close play.

"The umpire said he beat the throw, but he kind of kept the outline [of Pacheco's leg] on the line," Lord said. "He said, 'Look at his foot. I kept it here. I didn't wipe off the plate. It showed his outside leg missed the plate barely'… I think he did a great job seeing it. I thought he was safe, but the umpire saw what he saw and he made the right call, in his eyes."

Costa Mesa National didn't let the call get them down, though. Ponsford followed with an RBI triple and he was batted home as Gardner singled to left, for a 7-6 lead.

It stayed that way until the bottom of the sixth.

Westminster will play in another elimination game today at 5 p.m.

Westminster Manager Todd Nash was proud of his son, who got the walk-off hit. He said Cade had missed the team's game Tuesday with a small outbreak of chicken pox. But the elder Nash also gave props to Costa Mesa National for battling so tough.

"Luckily we came back in the last inning and got some runs," Nash said. "Otherwise, they had us. It was a good game … I'm proud of our team and Costa Mesa. Those kids battled hard, man. That was awesome. They kept battling back, little by little, which was impressive especially [since] we beat them pretty good the other day. They kept their confidence."

Shortstop Riley Lord made several nice defensive plays for Costa Mesa. Teddy Lopez and Drake Siegel also contributed.

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