COSTA MESA — Cole Norris arrived at TeWinkle Middle School and went through his routine. Nothing out of the ordinary before a baseball game, stretch and warm up.
The pre-game plan changed with news of a shoulder problem.
Norris heard the starting pitcher for his Costa Mesa National Little League All-Star Majors Division team was not throwing Thursday. He knew the next kid in line to start in the Mayor's Cup against Costa Mesa American Little League, but he still asked the coach.
"I asked coach if I was starting," said Norris, who quickly found out from Manager Mike McClanahan that he was going with the player who just asked.
No one questioned the decision. Norris did not have time, with the first pitch a half hour away.
Norris just took the ball and turned in the best game of his 12-year-old life on the mound.
The right-hander pitched a perfect game.
Norris struck out 16 of the 18 batters he faced in six innings, as Costa Mesa National won, 4-0, and took Game 1 of the Mayor's Cup. Costa Mesa American Manager Jack Morales is just glad Norris will not be available to throw again in the rest of the best two-out-of-three series after his pitch count hit 75.
"He's a tough pitcher to begin with," Morales said, "but he was flawless."
Norris said he felt his stuff was good while warming up with catcher Brad Ehrhorn. When Norris mowed down two of the first three batters he saw in the top of the first inning, he realized he was unhittable.
Norris threw hard, and with his off-speed pitches, no one hit the ball out of the infield.
Only one batter put the ball in play in the first four innings against Norris. He struck out the side in order in the second, third and fourth innings.
In the fifth inning, Evan Larsen became the second Costa Mesa American player to make contact, hitting a grounder to second base. Josh Spicer easily fielded the ball. He lobbed it to first base, where Elijah Reiland stretched out to catch the third out.
Heading into the bottom half of the fifth, the game was still scoreless. Costa Mesa American left-handed starter Daniel Morales kept the opposition off balance through four innings.
Morales seemed to be in trouble in every inning. He got out of jams in the first, second and fourth, stranding two runners each time. McClanahan began to worry.
"You keep leaving them on base and you wonder if you're going to get a run," said McClanahan, whose team left eight runners on base. "You're hoping your pitcher can continue to pitch like he's doing."
The player slated to start for Costa Mesa National supported Norris in the fifth. Reiland had to wait for his chance.
The home team started a rally with a leadoff bunt by Jason Panella. Third baseman Evan Larsen played it well, bare-handing the ball before firing it to first base, but Panella beat out the throw. Helping Panella was that he is a left-handed batter, giving him a head start out of the batter's box.
Panella reached second on a passed ball, putting a runner in scoring position for the fifth straight inning against Morales. Up next was Reiland, who McClanahan said was frustrated in his previous two at-bats. A pitch hit Reiland in the first inning and he went down looking in the third with a runner on second.
Before Reiland dug into the batter's box in the fifth, the home plate umpire asked Reiland to tuck his shirt all the way in. A reluctant Reiland moved to the side and tossed his bat, causing the third-base umpire to call for time. The umpire jogged over to Reiland and talked to him.
"He basically told me to come and respect the home plate umpire," Reiland said. "I got to do what he tells me.
"It got me a little angry out there and gave me some strength to hit the ball."
Four pitches later, Reiland put the bat to good use. He ripped a single to left field, driving in Panella to give Costa Mesa National a 1-0 lead.
Costa Mesa National went on to score three more runs in the fifth. That was more than enough for Norris to work with in the final inning.
The leadoff batter in the sixth squared up to bunt, only to miss Norris' fastball. A fan yelled, "What are you doing bunting? We need more than a bunt."
Costa Mesa American had no chance at touching Norris, as he struck out the side in order for the fourth time in the game. Game 2 is Saturday at Costa Mesa High at 10 a.m.
"To stay alive, we got to win Game 2," said Jack Morales, adding Costa Mesa National has won the past three Mayor's Cup, all via sweeps. "We'll have Evan Larsen on the mound. [Hopefully], we can do the same thing to them that they did to us."