Behind home plate at Dodger Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as shade began to creep over the LA sign on the grass, All-City catcher Johnny Tincher of Lake Balboa Birmingham gathered his teammates in a circle for one last backflip. It’s been his signature celebration after victories, and with two banged up knees and a bandaged left thumb, he managed to pull it off for a final time.
“As I tell every player, ‘Are you hyped?’ ” Tincher said.
Birmingham, the No. 8 seed, became the the third team in City Section history to win a third consecutive Open Division championship with a 9-5 victory over No. 3-seed Palisades in a game that took 3 hours 33 minutes to complete and had so many twists and turns that Birmingham coach Matt Mowry said, “The range of emotions were incredible.”
If there were a singular star for the Patriots, it was rarely used senior pitcher Sebastian Cueva. He came to Birmingham from Murrieta Mesa. The Patriots were pretty much running out of pitching options after Palisades rallied from a 5-0 deficit to tie the score with a five-run fourth inning off starter Alex Ballesteros and reliever Chris Romero.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Dolphins loaded the bases with one out. Cueva got the call from the bullpen. He hadn’t pitched since a league game on May 9.
“I wanted the ball,” he said.
On a 3-and-2 count, he got a called third strike. Then he forced a popout. He struck out four, walked three and gave up no hits in 2 2/3 innings of stunning relief.
“It was one of those years the next guy had to step up,” Mowry said.
The two teams combined for 13 walks and six hit batters. Erik Rivas of Birmingham probably set a City record for being hit three times during the game. The Patriots were able to score three runs off Will Conquillard in the first inning, with Kevin Olmos contributing the first of his three RBI singles.
Conrad Smith had a two-run double during Palisades’ five-run fourth. Birmingham finally got some breathing room in the sixth after an RBI single from Olmos and a two-run double from Daniel Velazquez gave the Patriots a 9-5 lead.
It was left for Tincher to come up with a singular moment. Palisades was trying to rally in the bottom of the sixth with two runners aboard. The runner on second broke toward third on a steal attempt with two outs. Tincher threw out the runner breaking for second, the fourth time in the playoffs he has gunned down a runner.
“That’s who Johnny is,” Mowry said. “He’s the most savvy player in the program.”
Palisades finished with four hits and will have to wonder about a lost opportunity to take advantage of a teetering San Fernando Valley team. It was the 46th time in 47 years that a Valley team has won the upper division baseball title.
Sophomore pitcher DJ Orona of Harbor City Narbonne overcame some early jitters in the first inning before finishing with a five-hit shutout to lead the Gauchos past Marshall 4-0 in the Division I championship game.
Orona escaped the trouble after giving up two hits and a walk in the first inning. He struck out seven.
“It’s crazy being on the field where all the big leaguers are,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
Narbonne (16-20) won its first game this season, then went on a 10-game losing streak.
“Fortunately, we didn’t let the ship capsize,” coach Bill Dillon said.
Chris Vega had two hits and Julio Camarena had a two-run single for the Gauchos.