NHBA Bronco stars cruise into final

LOS ALAMITOS — With their usual leadoff man a little under the weather on Saturday, the Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. Bronco U12 All-Stars had to tinker with their lineup in the semifinals of the Southern California West Central District Tournament at St. Hedwig School.

But even when down a man, the NHBA brain trust fills out its lineup card with the same luxury of choices that Jay Leno has in his garage. In both cases, there is an abundance of high-performance options sure to keep things humming.

So when Newport Harbor Manager Sam Olmstead shifted Caleb Ricketts from the No. 5 hole to the leadoff spot, it was no surprise the catcher responded by going four for four with four runs and four runs batted in to help pace a 25-1 shellacking of St. Hedwig.

Saturday's triumph, just like Friday's, was shortened to 4 1/2 innings by the 10-run mercy rule. It is the 17th time in 19 wins this season that Newport Harbor (19-3) has invoked the mercy rule.

Newport Harbor advances to Sunday's title game against Cypress at 2:45 p.m.

Just as Ricketts showed his versatility, the NHBA lineup features about seven players who would likely find a home in the middle of most opponents' batting order. Instead, they align to form one of the most imposing offenses in their age group.

Newport Harbor has outscored its first two tournament foes, 44-1. In one of their three tournament titles earlier, also at St. Hedwig, the local 12-year-olds produced a 54-1 run surplus in five games.

The winners had home runs from John Olmstead and Shawn Nielsen to up their jackpot of jacks to 50 in 22 games of all-star play. In addition, they amassed 23 hits, including at least one from 10 of the 11 who played. Nine NHBA players had at least one RBI, 10 players scored at least once and all 11 reached base safely at least once.

The onslaught began early as 19 of the first 22 Newport Harbor players to visit the batter's box, reached base safely.

St. Hedwig helped with four first-inning errors (five total), but Newport Harbor batted around in the first, second and fourth innings, in which it scored eight, nine and six runs, respectively. Newport Harbor stranded eight runners, including leaving the bases loaded in the fourth.

St. Hedwig, which scored its run in the first, benefited from two inning-ending double plays to evade further carnage. Five St. Hedwig pitchers combined to produce five walks and three hit batters.

Newport Harbor starting pitcher Nolan Dunn delivered three strong innings, surrendering three hits, striking out three and walking two. Dunn, hitting in the No. 7 hole, went four for five with a double, three runs and two RBIs to contribute further.

A.J. Stefano, batting second, had five RBIs and three runs to show for his two-for-five day at the plate. He also pitched two scoreless innings, in which he faced the minimum and allowed just one hit.

Olmstead, the No. 3 hitter and shortstop who now has an eye-popping 16 homers and 45 RBIs in the all-star campaign, went three for five with three RBIs and three runs.

Nielsen, who smacked his sixth homer during all-star play, a three-run bomb in the second inning, was three for four with five RBIs and two runs. He operates in the No. 6 spot.

Cleanup hitter Hayden Schott was two for three with three RBIs and two runs while Corbin Vaicek came off the bench in the No. 8 spot to go two for three with two runs.

Payton Jefferson, filling the No. 5 hole vacated by Ricketts, was one for two with one RBI and two runs. Reserve Tanner Ivey later drove in a run in the same spot.

Dayne Chalmers, who started in the No. 8 spot, had an RBI single and a walk in his two plate appearances. He scored one run.

And the No. 9 hole was also heard from, as Finn Springston went one for three with two runs. Springston also stood out on defense at second base.

It was Ethan Barnes who elected not to play, but is likely to be back in the leadoff spot on Sunday, Sam Olmstead said.

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