COMPTON — After going from a lengthy winning streak to finding themselves one loss away from ending their season in the blink of an eye, the members of the Arroyo Seco Saints baseball team adjusted well to the sudden application of win-or-go-home pressure on Friday.
The West Zone-representative Saints, who had a 15-game winning streak snapped by Chinese Taipei in the opening round Thursday, jumped on Caribbean Zone Carolina Puerto Rico for three runs in the bottom of the first inning. They added four more in the bottom of the third, and with starter Elliot Surrey near perfect on the mound through the first three innings, got their 2012 Palomino League World Series bid back on track with a 7-1 loser's bracket win at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
"We're happy with the win, it's the first win in Saints history in the World Series, so we're really happy about that, but I think we could have played better," said Saints second baseman and St. Francis High graduate David Olmedo-Barerra, one of several players with ties to St. Francis, Crescenta Valley or Glendale Community College on the team. "We're not used to losing. ...A loss may have been a reality check for us and we don't feel like we're going to lose again."
After Surrey struck out the side to begin the game, the Saints got to work in the bottom half of the first inning, putting their first three runners aboard on a lead-off single by Olmedo-Barrera (two for four with a run and two runs batted in), a walk to St. Francis' Brandon Van Horn and a plunking of Sergio Plasencia, a member of the 2012 Vaqueros.
An error on a ball hit to shortstop by Chris DeVito would score the Saints' first run and two more would follow on a sacrifice fly from St. Francis' Tei Vanderford (one for two with a RBI) to score Van Horn and a double to deep left field by Corey Sims to drive in Plasencia.
Sims' smash prompted Puerto Rico Coach Gilberto Salazar to inspect the bat Sims used and he immediately filed a protest, reopening a can of worms from the Chines Taipei game.
The Saints had protested Chinese Taipei's use of bats that did not meet Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) testing protocol on Thursday, only to be told by Pony officials that they were misinterpreting the rules and that BBCOR ratings were only required for one type of bat — those that fit a minus-3 classification as relates to the length of the bat in inches subtracted from its weight in ounces — and that the minus-5 bats used by Chinese Taipei were legal under tournament rules.
"The Pony tournament director has stated they are going to allow minus-5s if it is a non-BBCOR bat," said Saints Coach Aaron Milam, whose team had minus-5 bats available on Friday, although not every player used them throughout the game. "The [coaches from the] four U.S. zones got together yesterday [and decided] when we play each other, we're going to use BBCOR. When we play the international teams, because we don't know what they have, we're going to use the same bats that they are. We just want an equal playing field."
With some of his players actually still using wood bats, Salazar raised a heated protest and was later ejected from the game after leaving the field to confront a Pony official about the protest.
"You don't know what the international teams are going to show up with," Milam said. "More than half of these guys are swinging wood, but [Puerto Rico] got a bat from the Chinese and then they were swinging their own metal bat."
Puerto Rico assistant Luis Rosado said he was under the impression only BBCOR and wood bats were allowed in the tournament, but acknowledged that a precedent had been set by the Chinese Taipei incident of Thursday.
"When the Chinese started using an aluminum bat everything went crazy," he said. "They changed the rules, but anyway. One or two guys have the BBCOR because they play college here in the States and have some friends here. They loaned them [the bats] to hit, but basically the whole team used wood bats in that game.
"We didn't win because we didn't hit enough. Their pitching was good."
Compared to the 45-minute delay caused by Thursday's appeal, Friday's flap didn't create much of a distraction and certainly didn't slow Surrey's momentum. The left-hander allowed just one baserunner via a walk before exiting to preserve his availability for Saturday.
He left with a 7-0 lead after Olmedo-Barrera capped the Saints' four-run third with a two-run double to deep center field.
"I felt pretty good," Surrey said. "It was short rest from all my other outings, but that can work in my advantage too, because I can just take what I did well form the other outings and put them into this game."
The Saints must keep winning, needing two wins today to remain alive in the tournament. They will face the Central Michigan Stars at 1 p.m. and if victorious there, will lock horns with Chinese Taipei again at 7 p.m.
"With all these bat changes, we still don't even know what's going on," Olmedo-Barrera said. "We're still trying to figure this out, so we're just trying to play our game and put some runs up."