SURPRISE, Ariz. — Orcutt’s Babe Ruth All-Stars are going to the championship game.
The 14-year-old Central California champions defeated Southern California champion Torrance 7-5 in the final winner’s bracket game of the Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament Thursday morning at the Surprise Recreation Campus – the spring training home of both the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers – in Surprise, Ariz.
“This is the way baseball is meant to be played,” said Orcutt manager James Steels in a telephone interview after the game. “The boys met and exceeded every challenge to get to where we are today.”
It was another scorching day in the Arizona desert – 92 degrees when the boys arrived at the Texas Rangers’ Field No. 4 at 6:45 in the morning, rising to 100 degrees by the 8 a.m. game time.
“You’ve got to stay hydrated, got to know when to get out of the heat,” said Steels.
Orcutt was the designated visiting team for the first time in the tournament, so they batted first.
With their team ahead 7-3 going into the bottom of the seventh, Orcutt had to sweat out one final half inning to put this game in the win column.
Isaiah Navarro took the mound to start the game for Orcutt.
“Isaiah came out on one day’s rest and threw a great game,” said Steels. “He pitched five great innings before the heat and pitch count got to him and only gave up two hits. Torrance did score three runs on him but the first two were unearned.”
Caleb Dulay came on in the sixth to close out the win.
“On offense, we had a slow start,” said Steels. “We got two guys on base in the top of the first but couldn’t knock them in. Caleb was hit by a pitch and Ryan Delgado walked but we ended up leaving them on base.”
In the bottom of the first, Torrance took the early lead.
After getting two men on base, two errors led to two Torrance runs.
“They hit a ground ball that we didn’t field cleanly and one run scored and then a base hit knocked the second boy in,” said Steels. “But the boys didn’t show any panic. They knew they could overcome a two-run deficit. They buckled down and came right back at ‘em.”
And that’s what they did.
With two outs in the top of the third, Jake Steels blasted a triple off the center field wall. He came home on a passed ball.
Delgado was hit by a pitch, then stole both second and third. Quigley Espinola then hit a grounder to the outfield, scoring Delgado.
Espinola stole second and third and Navarro’s RBI single scored him.
Navarro stole second and was in scoring position when Connor Adams singled, driving in Navarro with the fourth run of the inning.
“The boys were super aggressive on the base paths. We stole nine bases in the game,” said Steels. “We out-hustled them. We took the extra base whenever we could. We kept the pressure on the whole game.”
Torrance got one run back in the bottom of the third, cutting the Orcutt lead to 4-3.
But Navarro continued to dominate, giving the Orcutt offense the time it needed to kick into a higher gear.
Which is what they did in the top of the fourth, scoring two more times.
Nate Cantor was hit by a pitch leading off the inning. Colby Thayer singled, putting men at first and second.
Dulay hit into a double play, with Thayer ending up on second.
Jake Steels singled and Thayer scored.
After Steels stole second, Delgado hit the ball to the shortstop for an infield single with Steels coming around from second to score.
Orcutt was now up 6-3.
With one out in the seventh, Steels doubled and promptly stole third and when Espinola singled over the second baseman’s head, Steels easily scored.
Torrance rallied in the bottom of the seventh, scoring two runs before Dulay closed the door.
“They actually had the tying run on base in the bottom of the seventh when Torrance’s final batter blasted a hard shot to Delgado at short who fielded the ball cleanly and threw to second base for the final out,” said Steels. “Everyone contributed. We got a lot of key hits. Jake got a single, double and a triple, stole three bases, drove in two and scored three runs.”
The younger Steels was named Player of the Game.
But the team didn’t take the rest of Thursday off.
“We don’t feel as though we’ve played our ‘A’ game yet,” said Steels. “So after the game the boys said they wanted to get some work and I just can’t day ‘no’ to them so we went back to the “It’s All In The Game” batting cages to get a little pitching and batting practice in. The batting cages are owned by Santa Maria native Joe Mastroti. At least they are air conditioned. It’s been so hot out at the ballpark – sometimes I think my brain is cooking.”
Orcutt now moves on to Friday’s championship game where they’ll face the Oahu Thunder in a re-match of their second round game. The Thunder earned its shot after beating Torrance 14-5 in the final elimination bracket game later Thursday morning.
Orcutt won the Oahu game 2-1 on Wednesday.
“We played them last year (in the 13-year-old tournament),” said Steels. “We are all aware that they are in the same situation again, coming into the championship round from the elimination bracket so our plan is still to get as many runs early as we can to try to take the pressure off our pitching.”
Orcutt will have five pitchers available for Friday’s game or games — Delgado, Dulay, Cantor, Adams, Steels and Dillan Badenell.
If Orcutt wins the 8 a.m. game, then the tournament is over. If not, the teams will be back again 30 minutes after the first game ends for a winner-take-all finale.