NORTHEAST GLENDALE — All he wanted was for his team to score early. He knew if his players did, they would be in prime position to advance to the championship game of the Junior Baseball Tri-Cities Tournament.
Vaquero Express Coach Ramon Valdez got his wish.
His 13- and 14-year-old team scored two runs in the first, added a pair of runs in the fourth and capped its scoring with a run in the fifth to come away with a 5-3 victory against the Jewel City/Jewish War Veterans Bears on Wednesday at Scholl Canyon Field.
"[The early lead] got the kids up and the momentum was there," said Valdez, whose team will play in the title game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Dunsmore Park.
Fidel Hernandez supplied the offense and commanded his team while playing behind the plate.
Hernandez had a two-run single in the first inning, scoring Jacob Garcia and Jacob Barajas with a sharp liner to left.
Bears starting pitcher Jeff Oki settled down after Hernandez's single until he had to face the catcher again in the fourth inning. Hernandez blasted a solo home run to left-center field, easily clearing the fence to give the Express a 3-1 cushion. Express pitcher Sergio Selano scored later in the inning on a groundout by Alex Sanchez.
"Jeff just left it up there," Bears Coach Dave Miller said. "Give them all the credit in the world."
Miller's team began to mount its rally in the top of the fifth. Austin Wallis, who hit a solo home run in the third inning, scored on Oki's double to left to cut the Express' lead to 4-2.
After David Parra scored in the bottom half of the inning, the Bears quickly loaded the bases on five pitches in the top of the sixth. Orlando Marin singled, J.D. Kiefer reached on an error and Javier Cisneros was the beneficiary of a fielder's choice.
But the Bears could only muster one run despite having no outs.
Gabe Salazar grounded into a force out, but an error allowed Kiefer to score. With runners at the corners, Solano struck out the final two batters of the inning to preserve the lead. Solano pitched six innings, allowing six hits and striking out four.
"You have to muster up something [in the sixth inning]," Miller said. "We were lucky, too. We got a gift with the error."
The Bears didn't get anymore chances, as Brandon Munoz retired in the side on nine pitches in the top of the seventh inning to earn the save.
Hernandez and his teammates were satisfied with Wednesday's effort, but their focus was shifted to Saturday's championship.
Said Hernandez: "We did good. Now we want to win it all."