COMPTON — Before the start of Tuesday night's Palomino West Zone Tournament title game, Arroyo Seco Saints Coach Aaron Milam paired one important qualifier with a compliment.
"When our guys show up," he said, "it's tough to beat us."
The pivotal part, of course, required the Saints to show up, which they did not. At least not through seven innings.
Arroyo Seco gave up three runs in the fifth inning, and the Los Gatos Legends pulled away with a 5-2 win in the MLB Urban Youth Academy.
Los Gatos advanced to the eight-team PONY World Series, which begins Thursday at the same facilities. The World Series is comprised of four national teams, three international, and a host (the Legends, which open against the Puerto Rican team).
The Saints tallied seven hits, one more than Los Gatos, but were unable to advance past second base (save for a two-run shot in the third by Steven Karkenny).
"It was just a hard-fought game," said Milam, who is an assistant coach at St. Francis High. "Those guys [the Legends] are hungry. They threw two lefties at us, and that's kind of been our kryptonite at the plate. It made it tough, obviously, for us to stay disciplined, stay back. And we didn't necessarily spray the balls as well as usually do."
The two Los Gatos pitchers combined for four strikeouts and no walks. They hit four batters, including two in the seventh. In contrast, Saints pitcher Scott Barlow, a Dodgers draft pick who will play for Fresno State, pitched a complete game and recorded three strikeouts and seven walks, including three in the sixth inning.
Though the loss prevented the Saints from their first PONY World Series, there was optimism surrounding the team after the game.
"The goal of this program is to improve and go further every year, so we know we're successful," Milam said. "We lost in the semifinals of the [West] Zone last year, so this year we get to the final and every year we try to get a little bit better."
Dave Hubinger, a St. Francis grad who has committed to play for Pepperdine University, saw his three-year run with the Saints end following Tuesday's loss.
"It's been a wonderful experience and it's sad that it ends," said Hubinger, who was one of two Saints players to finish with multiple hits, as he went two for three, along with Karkenny. "We're taking baby steps, and hopefully the big one is going to come next year."