Pender stands ground in crucial play

PLACENTIA — Cole Pender does not wear the jersey number of a catcher. The 11-year-old is No. 99 and his dad, Denny Pender, can give you 99 reasons why he moved Cole from pitcher to catcher before the season.

Two of those reasons were on full display Friday for the Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. Bronco All-Star team. Cole has the arm to throw out runners and attitude to block the plate.

The runner from Los Alamitos heading home to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning was not making it home safely. Cole stood his ground after Matthew McDonald fired a perfect throw from center field.

Cole tagged the runner for the third out in a bang-bang play, allowing Newport Harbor to hold on for a 6-5 win. Cole and his teammates get to continue playing in the Pony Bronco Southern California Central Region Sectional at Placentia Champions Sports Complex.

Denny, the manager, is unsure how many more of these types of games he can stomach in the tournament.

For the second straight game, Denny saw his team in a one-run nail bitter.

Newport Harbor was on the winning side this time around and Denny can thank his son.

"It's bread and water tonight if he doesn't block the plate," Denny said after Newport Harbor stayed alive in the elimination bracket, where it resumes play today at 3 p.m.

Denny said Newport Harbor plays the loser of the winner's bracket game today between Placentia and Saddleback. Newport Harbor found itself one loss away from being out of the tournament after a 3-2 setback to Placentia on Wednesday.

Charlie Wiggs pitched most of that game for Newport Harbor. Denny went to the left-hander again.

At first, Wiggs told Denny he couldn't throw for the second time in three days because of arm soreness. Newport Harbor needed his services in a tight game against Los Alamitos, which beat Newport Harbor, 13-0, a week and a half ago at a different tournament.

Wiggs' father walked over to the dugout and talked with him privately.

"He just told me to keep going. You got to finish the game for the team," Wiggs said his dad stressed.

"I'm really glad [I came in]."

So are his Newport Harbor teammates, who saw Wiggs record the save with 31/3 strong innings.

Wiggs entered with two out and runners on third and second base in the bottom of the fourth inning. He was also behind in the count, 2-0, without even throwing a pitch.

Up for Los Alamitos was its No. 3 hitter and on deck was the clean-up hitter. Wiggs, much smaller in size to the batter, needed just two pitches to induce a grounder toward the mound.

Wiggs fielded the ball and threw it to first, as Newport Harbor avoided trouble and kept its 6-5 lead. It wouldn't be the last time Newport Harbor was in a jam.

The offense didn't give Wiggs much room for error. After Newport Harbor scored six runs in the first two innings, it put up zeroes the rest of the way.

Los Alamitos reliever Garrett Rennie played a role in slowing down Newport Harbor's bats. Rennie replaced the starter in the second inning and he pitched brilliantly for 52/3 innings.

Wiggs matched Rennie's effort during his stint.

In the fifth and seventh innings, Los Alamitos had the go-ahead run on board. The first time, with runners on the corners, Wiggs, fooled the hitter with a devastating off-speed pitch called for a third strike.

When Wiggs delivered a bad pitch with two outs, Cole bailed him out. That was the case when a pitch got past the catcher with a runner on third base. The runner raced home, but Cole threw a close-ranged strike to Wiggs, who was covering the plate. Wiggs tagged the runner out.

The runner was the fourth player thrown out by Cole, the closest by far. Twice Cole gunned down runners trying to steal third base and once at second base.

Getting the game's final three outs wasn't easy.

Wiggs allowed a leadoff single and then the next two batters popped up. The following batter singled, giving Los Alamitos runners on second and first.

On Wiggs' fourth offering to Daniel Almeida, he hit a hard single straight up the middle to center. The runner at second took off for third and then motored home, not knowing McDonald threw a laser to Cole at the plate.

"I thought the guy wouldn't go," said Cole, who was glad the runner tried to tie the game because the runner was about to slide into an immovable barricade.

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