COMPTON — There’s no place like the West Zone for the Arroyo Seco Saints 18U summer baseball team.
Five days after opening defense of their 2012 championship with a loss, the Saints concluded a stunning turnaround with a 6-3 victory over the South Bay Legacy in the championship game of the Palomino West Zone Tournament at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Center in Compton.
The victory was the fifth in a row over a four-day span for the Saints (31-5), who advance to Thursday’s opening round of the Palomino World Series versus Jakarta, Indonesia at noon back at the Urban Youth Center.
“You have two teams with players going to big-time colleges and it’s about trending and making big plays,” said Saints skipper Aaron Milam, who is also the head coach at St. Francis High. “Today, we got a great effort from [left fielder] Brandon Caruso and [pitcher] Nate Rousey. They stepped up today.”
Arroyo Seco iced the game in the fifth with three runs, which began when Caruso (two for four with two runs) celebrated his 19th birthday by crushing a 2-0 offering from South Bay starting pitcher Sam Delaplane over the right-field wall for a solo homer that put the Saints ahead, 4-0.
Delaplane seemed to lose his poise after the blast, walking Corey Dempster and Chris Devito in consecutive at-bats, which led to his exit.
Both Dempster and Devito scored on run-scoring fielder’s choices from Troy Prasertsit and Pat Adams, both of whom hail from Crescenta Valley, to complete Arroyo Seco’s scoring.
“We got some big hits tonight and it wasn’t just me, this was a team effort,” Caruso said. “It was nice to score runs and not be in a tight game.”
Arroyo Seco’s offense in the fifth paid dividends when South Bay scored three runs in the top of the seventh to creep within 6-3 with the tying run in the on-deck circle.
Yet, the Legacy didn’t complete the comeback when reliever DJ Milam recorded the game’s final out on a fly ball to right field.
Arroyo Seco opened the game with gusto, as Devito laced a 3-2 fastball into left-center off Delaplane that plated Ryan Dobson (walk) and Caruso (single), who were on base with one out.
Devito’s two-bagger put the Saints ahead, 2-0, and was followed by a single to left from JJ Muno that placed runners on the corners.
While Delaplane appeared on the ropes, the Legacy hurler did induce a grounder to short from Josh Clark that was booted near the second-base bag, allowing Devito to score the Saints’ third and final run of the inning.
Perhaps Arroyo Seco gained momentum from a bizarre 7-5-4 double play that ended the first inning.
South Bay’s Kyle Dozier sent a fly ball into center field that was dropped and allowed a hustling Dozier to advance to second.
The Legacy’s next batter, Josh Adams, then sent a lazy fly ball to left that was dropped.
Despite the error, Saints left fielder Caruso quickly relayed into third baseman Muno, who applied a swipe tag on Dozier for the second out.
The quick out was accompanied by some head’s-up play by Muno, who fired to second baseman Pat Adams, who then tagged out Josh Adams trying to advance to second for the final out of the inning.
South Bay’s inefficiency at the dish with runners in scoring position in the first marked only the beginning of a game-long theme.
The Legacy finished two for 14 in such positions with two RBI and eight stranded runners.
“We had some great starts the last couple of days from some big guys and today was my day,” said Rousey, a Glendale Community College hurler who started and pitched five scoreless innings while allowing only two hits and keeping South Bay 0 for nine with runners in scoring position. “I tried my best to keep those guys off-balance and to get us back to the World Series.”