ONTARIO – What started as a pitching duel turned into a scrappy 7-1 win Friday for the Manhattan Beach Senior All-Stars in the Little League Western Region Tournament at picturesque Jay Littleton Ball Park.
With the victory, Manhattan Beach improves to 3-0 in Pool B of the Little League Senior Division Western Regional Tournament and qualified for Monday’s single-elimination semifinals. Washington dropped to 0-2 and out of contention in Pool B.
The tournament winner earns a trip to the Little League Senior Division World Series later this month in Bangor, Maine.
Manhattan Beach is tied atop Pool B with the Chino National Little League Seniors, who defeated Arizona 9-1 in Friday’s nightcap. Chino and Manhattan Beach meet at 6 p.m. Sunday in the final game of pool play.
In Friday’s game, Austin Sisley, the starter for Washington State champs Kent/Chinook Little League, held Manhattan Beach hitless through three innings. Meanwhile, Manhattan Beach starter Turner Conrad matched Sisley with four shutout innings of his own.
At its best, baseball is a thrilling battle of skill and nerve between the pitcher and hitter. At its worst, the struggle is taken from the players’ hands.
With the score 3-1 going into the sixth inning, the officials took control of the game. The umpiring crew called two balks on Washington pitchers in the sixth inning and three more in the seventh, resulting in three Manhattan Beach runs.
Manhattan Beach manager Carlos Rojas and Washington skipper Tim Mizzitelli agreed the balks robbed their teams of momentum.
“It took us out of our rhythm,” Rojas said, “especially at the plate. It felt like at the end we were starting to hit the ball, but it was hard with the balk calls.”
Mizzitelli said the balks disrupted his team, but he wanted to concentrate on the way Sisley pitched.
“Austin is our youngest player,” Mizzitelli said. “He is the only high school freshman on the team.
“He was changing speeds effectively, keeping them off-balance. That’s his game.”
Manhattan Beach’s Trent Hammond broke up Sisley’s no-hit bid with a single up the middle in the top of the fourth. Hammond stole second base and moved to third on cleanup hitter Garrett Wells’ grounder.
Jack Webber’s sacrifice fly to left chased Hammond home for a 1-0 Manhattan Beach lead.
The team stretched the lead to 2-0 in the fifth. David Odle smacked a leadoff single and stole second. He moved to third after Sisley hit Manhattan Beach’s Jack Hadley and Kevin Lopez on back-to-back pitches. Odle scored on Conrad’s one-out sacrifice fly to left.
Rojas lifted Conrad after four innings. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander recorded his second win in five days by holding the two-time Washington state champs scoreless on four hits, one walk and four strikeouts.
Conrad also got help from his defense in the third. Wells made a spectacular sliding catch on a blooper to right field and threw to first to double up Washington’s Colby Thompson, who had led off the inning with a walk.
“Pitching and defense are the keys to our game,” Rojas said. “That was a very nice play by Wells.”
Gregory Whitaker pitched a scoreless fifth in relief of Turner.
With Sisley still pitching in the sixth, Manhattan Beach’s Webber lined a one-out double to the 378-foot mark of the ivy-covered left-field fence. Christian Reynolds’ grounder sent Webber to third.
David Odle crushed a triple to the ivy in left to send Webber home from third.
With two outs in the sixth and the score 3-1, Sisley had thrown 94 pitches, one shy of the Little League limit of 95. Mizzitelli brought in Harley Wood to pitch. That’s when the game turned ugly.
In 13 pitches, Wood hit Manhattan Beach’s Richard O’Reilly, walked Jack Hadley and balked in two runs. The score was 4-0 before Hunt recorded the third out.
Washington’s run came in the sixth when Jared Mackie led off with a single and came home on Matt Nutting’s double.
Steve Hunt pitched the seventh for Washington, and the balks kept coming. Hunt walked Conrad, who moved to third on back-to-back singles by Hammond and Wells.
Then Hunt balked Conrad home and Hammond to third. Hammond scored on a balk and Wells moved to third before Reynolds stroked a single for MB’s only RBI of the three-run rally.