COMPTON — As runs piled up, it appeared the Arroyo Seco Saints baseball team was on its way to coasting to another victory.
They've done that to the tune of a 31-4-1 season, and Sunday's performance seemed to be going that way again.
But the Saints found themselves in a bind when they relinquished a five-run lead and trailed by one in the fifth inning of the West Zone Palomino Tournament. So, with its back against the wall and its season on the brink, Arroyo Seco found inspiration and used it to rally to a 9-7 win in the semifinals of the tournament against Team Urban Youth Academy.
With that, the Saints advanced to Tuesday's tournament championship game at 7:30 p.m. with a chance to represent the West Zone in the World Series.
"We were tested today, but we didn't freak out," said Josh Clark, who scored the tying run and finished one home run away from completing the cycle. "We just continued to play hard and we were able to pull it together."
The Saints held a 6-1 lead heading into the fourth inning, before falling behind, 7-6, by the end of the fifth. They bounced back in the sixth, though, with three runs on three hits.
It started with a leadoff triple by Clark, who went three for three with a walk, and proceeded with a RBI single to left-center by David Olmedo-Barrera (St. Francis) to tie it at 7.
Pinch hitter Domm Davis then came up with a two-run RBI single that went down centerfield for a 9-7 lead.
Jeff Bain (San Marino) closed out the final three innings for the Saints.
He had a shaky start in the fifth, allowing two runs on three hits that gave Urban Youth Academy a 7-6 edge. But after making some mechanical adjustments, Bain struck out three straight between the last two innings, yielding no hits and only one walk during that stretch.
"I just felt more fluid [after heeding my coach's advice] and the ball was coming out better," he said.
Arroyo Seco pounded out 12 hits, including two from Olmedo-Barrera (two for four, run scored, walk) and a pair from Troy Prasertsit (Crescenta Valley, two for four run scored).
The Saints opened the first inning with a three-run performance. Brandon Van Horn (St. Francis) drew a walk with one out and then Sergio Plascencia (Glendale Community College) proceeded with a double to the right-field gap. Tei Vanderford (St. Francis) followed by blasting a three-run shot to left field on the first pitch.
Up 3-0, Prasertsit led off the second with a double down the left-field line. Clark then smacked a RBI double past the first baseman. Though its offense was peaking, Arroyo Seco's defense began to dwindle.
Starting pitcher D.J. Milam gave up a double to lead off the bottom of the second inning that cut the Saints' advantage to 4-1.
Milam wore down by the fourth, surrendering four runs and two hits that inning, which allowed Urban Youth Academy to come to within 6-5.
The Saints plucked Milam for Bain, who shrugged off a two-run fifth inning by shutting out Urban Youth Academy the last two.
"This is a pretty confident team," Saints Coach Aaron Milam said. "What I'm telling them is, 'Confidence is good, but you don't let it get to your head.' You get too cocky, you expect to beat teams. And that's when teams will sneak up on you and beat you."