COMPTON — For the first time all tournament long, the Arroyo Seco Saints baseball team appeared vulnerable and perhaps even beatable.
Yet, that didn't matter.
The Saints proved themselves untouchable and clinched a berth in Thursday's opening round of the Palomino League World Series by topping the San Jose Giants, 5-2, in Tuesday evening's West Zone championship at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy.
The victory was the first for Arroyo Seco (32-4-1) in the West Zone finals since 2004 and proved especially satisfying since the Saints were turned away in back-to-back West Zone Finals the last two years.
"It's been eight seasons and nine years and this is sweet," said Arroyo Seco Coach Aaron Milam, who coaches the St. Francis High baseball team. "I'm proud of to be a part of this team. I challenged them today to extend their season and stick together and they did."
After a day off, Arroyo Seco will be back in action at the Urban Youth Academy at 3 p.m. on Thursday versus a still to be determined team from the Asian Pacific Zone.
Arroyo Seco scored all the necessary offense with a first-inning batting clinic that scored four runs on six hits, as the Saints led, 4-0, after half an inning.
With one out in the inning, Saints second baseman Brandon Van Horn (St. Francis) singled off Giants pitcher Brady Moore, which was followed by another single from Sergio Plasencia (Glendale Community College) and a run-scoring double from Chris DeVito.
While Moore picked up a second out, the right-hander couldn't notch a third out in surrendering a two-run double to Corey Sims and another run-scoring double from catcher Jonah Jarrard.
After the second double, Moore was pulled in favor of reliever Gabriel Katich, who promptly allowed a single to Josh Clark, but no more runs in escaping the inning.
Arroyo Seco's offense proved enough — barely — as the Saints mustered only one run and two hits after the first inning and tacked on an additional run in the seventh on an error, two walks and a sacrifice fly from Plasencia (two hits, one run and one run batted in).
"Coming through with these guys has been a lot of fun. The experience is kind of like regionals with GCC," Plasencia said in reference to the Vaqueros' playoff run last spring. "But here, we're moving on."
As for San Jose, the Giants halved their deficit in the second with two runs in an inning that included singles from Erik Barron and Isiah Resendez against starting pitcher Calvin Copping, which coupled with an error, loaded the bases.
Copping then induced a 6-4 fielder's choice that scored Barron, while Resendez came home on a throwing error.
To Copping's credit, the former Temple City standout struck out DJ Cortez to end the inning.
The second-inning threat was followed by similar challenge in the fourth in which San Jose's first two batters reached on a double and hit batter.
This time, though, Copping responded with consecutive strikeouts in preventing any runs from scoring as he and reliever Elliot Surrey (Crescenta Valley) combined to strike out eight batters.
While the Giants out-hit the Saints, 5-2, San Jose didn't place a runner on second past the fourth.
"We had a scouting report on these guys," said Surrey, who tossed two scoreless innings. "We knew the offense might have some troubles because of the switch from wood bats, but we always expect the pitching to be strong."