PASADENA — Thanks to stellar defense and solid pitching, the Arroyo Seco Saints didn't really need to score any more runs than the three spot they put up in the first inning — but they did anyway.
The Saints scored six more to be exact, and shut out the San Bernardino Nationals, 9-0, at Jackie Robinson Field Sunday to advance to the championship game of the Southern California Palomino League Regional Tournament, which will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday AT Jackie Robinson.
Arroyo Seco starting pitcher Aaron Murphree and relievers Jack Sheeley and Josh Goosen-Brown each did their part in contributing to the shutout, allowing just three hits. Each pitcher struck out one batter and relied on defense to put away batters.
"We have a lot of groundball pitchers, so we rely a lot on the fact that we're a good defensive team," said Saints Coach Aaron Milam, who also an assistant coach at St. Francis High. "Whether we score no runs or ten runs, it keeps us in the game."
Murphree pitched four innings and gave up two of the three hits. Sheeley got into some trouble in the sixth inning when the Nationals loaded up the bases with just one out, but ultimately couldn't come through with the big hits.
For their part, the Arroyo Seco bats were alive throughout. Chester Pak got things started in the first inning with a triple that scored Kevin Swick and Goosen-Brown. An error from the Nationals allowed Pak to score himself.
The wheels came off in the sixth inning for the Nationals, where the Saints scored four runs.
After Dusty Sanderson walked with the bases loaded, St. Francis graduate Mark Saatzer hit a sacrifice fly to increase the lead to six.
Saatzer was also responsible for the team's fourth run, as his single in the third inning scored Sanderson, who had led off the inning with a stand-up double.
"We're a pretty confident group," said Saatzer. "We just need to stay consistent and do more of the same on Tuesday that we did today."
The Saints (3-0) have scored 18 runs and allowed just two runs in their last two contests. A 9-2 victory over the Covina Blues on Saturday put the Saints in good position to reach the championship game, regardless of the outcome with the Nationals (0-3). However, the win assures that Arroyo Seco will be one of the top four teams who advance to the West Zone Tournament in Compton, California starting July 31.
Milam says the squad, which also includes St. Francis' David Hubinger and A.J. Berglund, bonded quickly and became good friends off the field, which has a lot to do with the team's success on the field.
"It's an interesting situation every year, and in past years the chemistry hasn't been there, but this group came together really quick," Milam said.
Added Saatzer: "It took a week or two, but the strong bond is the reason why we're so consistent."
Hubinger had two at-bats and walked in the fourth inning.
Saatzer, Hubinger and the rest of the Saints will look for a repeat performance in the championship game.
"We're going to play a great team, so we just have to stay in the game for seven innings," Milam said.