The Grass Valley Junior Division All-Stars team staved off elimination once again, letting their bats ring Thursday on their way to a 12-4 victory over the Bear River All-Stars.
“It’s been a long time since a Grass Valley team has played as well as these guys are playing,” Grass Valley head coach Scott Wheeler said. “It’s a team where everybody picks each other up, every kid on the team is fundamentally sound, has good baseball knowledge and loves to play.”
The win advances Grass Valley (4-1) to Saturday’s semifinal game against Lincoln (2-1). All games are played at the Tri-City Little League fields in Rocklin.
Grass Valley didn’t wait long to hang a crooked number on the scoreboard and erase an early 1-0 deficit, plating four runs in the bottom of the first. Cole Anderson got things going with a base hit, the first of three for the talented outfielder. Anderson would later score on a base knock by Tyler Nielson, which also plated Sam Hopper. Nielson finished 3-for-4 on the day, and Anderson would score four times in the game.
“Cole is one of the most advanced baseball knowledge, dirty, gritty players that I have seen,” Wheeler said. “He’s got a great swing, he can play anywhere on defense. He will go anywhere and play anywhere with a smile on his face.”
Anderson said he was just happy to see his team advance through the tourney.
“It’s nice to win an elimination game,” Anderson said. “We knew we had to come in fired up and knew we had to win or we were going home.”
Nielson would later score on an RBI ground out by Luke Cornish, who provided quality at-bats all day, going 2-for-3 from the plate with two RBIs, a double, a sac fly and two runs scored. Cornish was also stellar behind the plate keeping almost everything in front of him while catching for five Grass Valley pitchers.
“Luke is the best catcher in the league hands down,” Wheeler said. “He knows the game. I don’t call the pitches, he calls the pitches, he knows what to call, he knows what spots to hit and our pitchers are hitting their spots the last two days.”
For Grass Valley, Sam Hopper got the start on the mound, but pitched just one inning, keeping his pitch count low allowing him to be available for Saturday’s game. Hopper allowed one run in one inning of work before he gave way to Anderson, who pitched the next two innings, allowing one run. Anderson then gave the ball to Cody Jiannino who went 1 2/3 innings without allowing a run. Jiannino then was relieved by Kyle Cuniberti, who threw 1 1/3 inning and yielded one run. Nielson closed the game out with a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh.
Grass Valley also got strong plate performances from Kyle Felhaber with a two-RBI double, Jacob Craft with an RBI single, Hopper with two RBIs and two hits, including a double, Kyle Cuniberti with a double and Jace Wheeler with three walks and an RBI. Wheeler now has 13 walks through five games in the tourney.
For Bear River, the problem wasn’t getting runners on, it was getting them across. Bear River had runners on in every inning but the seventh and stranded 11 in the game.
Leading the way at the plate for the Bear River All-Stars was second baseman Nate Van Patten with a 3-for-3 day, including a walk and two runs scored. Aaron Sasville added two hits and an RBI coming in the first inning, Jacob Anderson chipped in an RBI single, and Jake Rogers drove in a run with a sac fly and also tallied a base knock in the third.
Pitching for Bear River was Jake Leonard, Dean Hopper and Jordan Elliot. Leonard started and went two innings before Hopper took over for three innings. Elliot would throw one inning in relief of Hopper.
The loss ends a spirited run by the Bear River All-Stars who lost their first game of the tournament before reeling off three wins before falling the Grass Valley Thursday.
For Grass Valley this is the third time they have won an elimination game in the tourney.
“We are in this to win it,” Wheeler said. “We are not in it just to beat Bear River, we are in it to win it. We want to win this tournament.”
For a full look at the Junior Division All-Stars bracket visit http://district11llb.com.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.