The Nevada City Giants (Major Division) and Nevada City Red Sox squared off under the lights at Pioneer Park Monday, vying for NCLL’s final spot in the District 11 Tournament of Champions.
The game promised to be a taut one, with the two teams neck and neck in the standings and each playing their best ball of the season.
The contest did not disappoint as the see-saw battle featured clutch hitting and outstanding defense, and in the end it was the Red Sox that prevailed, 4-2.
Dustin Thompson took the hill for the home Red Sox, getting some defensive help with a nice grab from outfielder Nico Paoletti to close out a scoreless first. Giants’ starter, Robert Hanna, held serve with a zero of his own in the bottom of the first. Hanna was aided by catcher, Andrew Long, who quashed a potential rally with a laser to third baseman, Max Lundmark, to catch the crafty Thompson on an attempted steal for the inning’s third out.
Sparkling defensive play from both sides highlighted the second and third innings. Thompson continued to change speeds effectively, allowing ground balls that his defense turned into outs. Thompson displayed his own glove skills, as well, charging off the mound to grab a dribbler headed towards short, pivoting on a dime, and whipping the ball to first for an important out.
Lundmark took over on the mound for the Giants in the bottom of the second, with Hanna moving behind the plate to anchor the defense. Lundmark kept that defense busy, throwing consecutive ground balls for Long, now at third base. Outfielder, Tristan Smith, got in on the action, too, making a nice grab in right of a potentially dangerous fly ball from the Red Sox’s Gage Newsom.
The tension mounted for both teams as the game moved into the fourth, still scoreless, and with Thompson still on the mound for the Red Sox. Thompson started solidly with a strikeout for the first out but allowed a well-placed single to right from Giants’ second baseman, Michael Highsmith. That brought Giants’ slugger, Duke Morales, to the plate, itching to pop the seal on the game. Looking for a fastball, Morales got the pitch he wanted and ripped it over the fence in left center for his second home run of the season, staking the Giants to a 2-0 lead. Long followed with a solid single through the gap between third and short, but a line-out, throw ‘em out double play helped Thompson escape with only the two runs of damage.
The Red Sox came to the plate in the bottom of the fourth needing runs. Matthew Tintle started the Sox nicely by stretching a single into a one-out double with aggressive base running, chasing Lundmark in the process. Long took over on the mound, throwing hard, but plagued by some control issues. After a few bases on balls, Long was able to get a blooper to short that Morales handled nicely for the second out. A deep foul ball from the Red Sox’s Ben McCandless followed, after which the Giants brought in Morales to replace Long. Morales was able to get the third out on a deep fly ball to dead center from Joe Pardini that caused more than a few deep breaths from the nervous Giants fans in the stands. Centerfielder A.J. Meyer tracked the bomb down capably, bringing the G-Men into the dugout trailing 4-2.
Thompson was able to restore order for the Red Sox in the fifth, allowing a single but otherwise setting the Giants down in order. Morales and replacement Connor Stoll were able to do the same for the Giants, scattering a single from Paoletti amongst three strikeouts, sending the Giants in for their last at-bats facing that same 4-2 deficit.
Smith started the Giants off right by beating out an infield single and moving to second on a wild pitch from Thompson. Any thoughts that Thompson was beginning to waver, however, were quickly put to bed as he struck out the next batter convincingly, bringing Meyer to the plate. Meyer knocked a solid liner to deep short that appeared to have RBIs written all over it. However, long-armed Tintle was able to stretch to his full length and just snare the ball, robbing Meyer of a sure base hit. Tintle threw to second to double-off the runner and in the most abrupt of instants, the game was over.
The victory allowed the Red Sox to stake a strong claim on NCLL’s final Tournament of Champions berth. Although the Giants still have a mathematical chance to gain the upper hand, they will need to win their remaining three games and get a loss from the Red Sox in their final game.
Meanwhile, in other Little League action, the NCLL Major Angels look to nail down their District 11 Area 2 pennant in what promises to be an epic showdown with the Bear River Diamondbacks Thursday at 7 p.m. at Pioneer Park. The unbeaten Angels boast a record of 15-0-1 while the Diamondbacks have only a single loss.
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