The Ocean View Little League Majors All-Star team followed its gameplan to near perfection Monday.
In a Southern California Sub-Division tournament game at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, Ocean View worked though six innings as if it were involved in a chess match, pitting wits and strategies against Canyon Springs.
The local 12-year-old All-Stars took the upper hand in the tournament by scoring a 5-1 victory that left Ocean View as the lone undefeated team in the five-team, double-elimination event. The District 62 and Section 10 champions advanced to the championship game series Wednesday. Ocean View faced once-beaten Park View of Chula Vista (Section 7), which on Tuesday routed Canyon Springs (Section 9), 12-1, in an elimination game. The score from Wednesday's game wasn't available at press time.
The winner of the tournament advances to the Division tournament best-of-three series that runs Saturday and Sunday, and if needed Monday at Cortez Park in West Covina. The winner of the Division tournament secures a spot in the Western Region Little League Baseball tournament that starts Aug. 5 in San Bernardino.
Encinitas National (Section 6) and Fontana Community (Section 8) also competed for the Sub-Division title at Mile Square Park, but each was eliminated earlier in the week.
Ocean View defeated Fontana, 13-2, in a tournament opener for both teams Saturday.
Monday's showdown between Ocean View and Canyon Springs began nearly an hour later than it's scheduled 8 p.m. first-pitch time, but that didn't prevent the fireworks from starting early. They were provided by pitchers Isaac Flores of Canyon Springs and Hagen Danner of Ocean View, who all but matched actions verbatim.
In the top of the first, Danner ripped a 1-2 fastball for a towering home run that reached the parking lot, well beyond the fence in left field. Flores shook off the blast and proceeded to strike out the next three batters.
Although Danner's homer put Ocean View in the early lead, Manager Jeff Pratto said he felt the game was far from over.
"I knew that hit wasn't going to win the game," he said. "But it sure was a great way to set the tone."
In the bottom half of the inning, it was Flores' turn.
The big right-hander led the Canyon Springs order and returned the favor to Danner by clobbering a full-count pitch that traveled nearly the same distance Danner planted his homer. Like Flores, Danner then fanned the next three batters.
"We knew it would be a pitching duel," Pratto said. "Isaac Flores is one of the top 12-year-old pitchers in Little League, travel ball and in the state. He and Hagen have battled each other in travel ball and both are outstanding."
Danner turned out to be the first of four Ocean View pitchers to see the mound Monday. The dominant right-hander worked the first two innings and struck out five of the eight hitters he faced. Lefty Nick Pratto took over for Danner and started the bottom of the third and struck out three of the first four batters he faced, giving up a one-out single to Johnny Jacobsen. His stint went three batters into the fourth, where he was replaced with one out and a runner at second by Trevor Windisch. The right-hander got out of the inning by recording consecutive strikeouts.
Windisch, who struck out three of four batters he faced on 14 pitches, exited with two out in the fifth. Ace Braydon Salzman closed things out. He made short work of Canyon Springs in his appearance and struck out the side in the sixth to put the finishing touch on another postseason victory for Ocean View.
"We had a pitching plan to exploit our depth and that dictated what we were going to do tonight," Jeff Pratto said. "(Coach Tony Cianca) drew up this plan and as a staff, we all agreed with it…and it worked really well.
"We knew they (Canyon Springs) were going to run Isaac Flores and in our mind, if our guys could come up with five foul balls and a 10-pitch at-bat, that would be a success against Isaac and it would really work him. We had several guys who were able to do that."
Danner liked Ocean View's rotation.
"I thought it worked really well," he said. "I wanted to do whatever it took for our team to get the win. That's what's most important, what's best for the team."
Flores threw five innings before reaching his pitch limit (86). He finished with 11 strikeouts and had two solo put outs on hits back to the mound in the fifth inning.
Ocean View parlayed a pair of Canyon Springs errors to score the go-ahead and winning run in the top of the third. No. 9 hitter Dylan Palmer hit a slow bouncer that traveled about 10 feet from the plate toward the third base side of the field. The Canyon Springs third baseman hustled to scoop up the ball, but his throw to first base sailed high and into right field. Palmer took two bases on the error.
One out later, Windisch singled to center field to send pinch runner Justin Cianca to third. With Nick Pratto at the plate, a Flores pitch escaped the glove of the catcher and rolled toward the backstop. Cianca headed for home and the throw to the plate was high and went off Flores' glove, allowing Cianca to slide safely for a 2-1 Ocean View lead.
Although the game stood at 2-1 for several innings, Ocean View seemed in control. The top of the sixth drove that point home.
Nick Pratto started the Ocean View sixth with a single to right field off. Jack Furry then reached base on an infield error before Steven Kotkosky crushed a 2-1 pitch to deep center field to break open the game.
"It felt great," Kotkosky said of his homer. "I knew it was going to be a good game and knew that they were a pretty good team. I was glad to be able to get a hit that helped us get the win."