Saints march onto championship game

COMPTON – What seemed like a long shot only four days ago is looking more and more like sure a bet.

After the Arroyo Seco Saints 18U baseball team kick-started defense of its West Zone
Palomino Tournament crown by stubbing its toe in defeat, the Pasadena-based squad, which boasts nine local players, did more than just exact revenge Monday evening.

The Saints also put themselves in position to repeat as champions after a strange and fortunate 3-2 victory over the PAL Giants of San Jose in tournament semifinal action at the Urban Youth Academy.

With the triumph, the Saints (30-5) topped the team that defeated them Thursday, 3-1, by virtue of their fourth straight one-run victory and earned a spot in Tuesday’s championship game back at the Urban Youth Academy at 7:30 p.m. versus undefeated South Bay Legacy.

Perhaps just as important as Monday’s victory was the feeling the Saints own after having won four games over the last three days needed to advance to Tuesday’s final.

“This is a team with a lot of experience who didn’t panic. We have a lot of players here from the Mission League that know what big-time baseball is,” Arroyo Seco Coach Aaron Milam said. “We went down 2-0, but you didn’t see panic because this team expected to come back and win and it expects to win the championship.”

Offensively for Arroyo Seco and defensively for the Giants, there was no larger inning than the top of the fifth.

San Jose led, 2-0, with starting pitcher Ray Fuentes dominating.

Fuentes had allowed no runs and three hits through 4 1/3 innings when he walked Saints catcher Carter Hodge with one out in the fifth.

The free pass was followed with what appeared to be a tailor-made double play ball from shortstop Ryan Dobson to his fielding opposite, Bryant Cid, who cleanly fielded the grounder, but struggled to get the ball out of his glove and fired high to second baseman Gabe Katich, allowing both runners to be safe on first and second.

For Cid, the nightmare inning continued as another potential double-play ball hit to him from Brandon Caruso was botched for an error that loaded the bases.

Arroyo Seco took advantage with a sacrifice fly from Corey Dempster that brought the Saints within 2-1.

Fuentes then surrendered the lead when a pickoff attempt try at first base sailed wide, allowing Ryan Dobson to score the tying run and Caruso to advance from first to third.

That extra nudge was pivotal as the following batter, Chris Devito, floated a ball down the third-base line for the go-ahead run-scoring single on what was Arroyo Seco’s lone hit (one for six) with runners in scoring position.

The lead held, but not without one last challenge from the PAL Giants, whose left fielder, Justin Bruce, led off with a double in the bottom of the seventh versus Arroyo Seco starting pitcher Andy Frakes.

Bruce stole third base a pitch later, but ultimately never scored as Frakes first coaxed a harmless infield grounder before Bruce tried to score with one out on a grounder to short from Luis Lerman, but was cut down at third base on a 6-2-5 relay.

Frakes then recorded the final out on a comeback to secure Arroyo Seco’s advancement.

“This is a team that’s played over 30 games in six weeks,” Milam said. “They know each other well and know how to back each other up.”

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