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July 20, 2010 > UCA seniors walk off with win sectionals' first round

UCA seniors walk off with win sectionals' first round

By Nick Zambrano

It wasn't the way they wanted to win it but they'll take it. The seniors from Union City American Little League won a nail biter against District 14's Mission San Jose Little League, 10-9, in the first round of the Section 3 tournament at Max Baer Park in Livermore on Saturday, July 17.

It wasn't the first one-run contest that UCA has had thus far. In the District 45 Championship UCA beat rival Union City National, 2-1. Despite the similar outcomes, the showdown with MSJLL had a tad more spice to it.

The boys from Mission hopped on the scoreboard first when Larry Price crossed home on Patrick Yang's two-out single. Price, the MSJLL leadoff hitter, got on by way of a base hit; he'd advance to third following a double by Jeff Chu.

It looked as if it could've been a short day for UCA starter Jan Mark Benitez. However, Benitez showed excellent composure with one out already recorded as he struck out the final two batters he faced in the inning. Benitez continued to settle into his groove heading into the fourth inning.

After tying the game up in the third, UCA took advantage of Mission left hander Chris Gaines' erratic control. Gaines surrendered walks to Benitez, Shahbaz Khan and Anthony Armijo to load the bases.

Ryan Loeffler, UCA's left fielder, stepped to the plate and played the waiting game with Gaines and drew a walk on a full count, getting an RBI.

Now with the game at 2-1 and the bases still loaded, Gaines found the strike zone at the wrong time. UCA heavy hitter Joe Armstrong took the first pitch he got from Gaines and sent a rocket over the center field fence to make it a 6-1 ball game.

After the home half of the fourth, Mission looked like a team already defeated.

However for MSJ, Benitez found out quickly what it was like to be in Gaines' shoes when he loaded the bases with just one out. He did get Yang to ground to short, but an error by Armstrong allowed Chu to score from third. With one out and the bases still loaded, Union City manager Jaime Delgadillo decided it was time to save Benitez from committing any more damage and brought in Armstrong to relieve him.

Armstrong did not fair any better and walked the only three batters he faced. He was replaced by James Logan High ace Brandon Yau. Yau was able to get Union City out of the jam but before it was all said and done, Mission tightened the game up, 6-5.

UCA was unable to respond in their half of the fourth as the blood continue to drip from wound. Larry Price led off the fifth for Mission with a solo blast to left center to tie it up at 6-6. Chu followed him up with a single; he advanced to second on an infield single by Reed Marion. Both Chu and Marion would scoot up 90 feet on a fielding error by Yau trying to get Gaines out at first. They finally crossed the plate on an error that allowed James Gaffey to get on base. Another run in the top of the seventh made it a 9-6 in favor of Mission San Jose.

Now with just three outs left, UCA was forced to create a spark otherwise their season would be in danger.

Loeffler opened up the inning by taking advantage an error by MSJ second baseman Kenny Jacoby. Armstrong followed him up with a walk because of Mission's respect for his power. Both runners moved up 90 feet; Loeffler to third on a wild pitch and Armstrong advanced to third via an uncontested steal.

With runners set into scoring position, Dimitri Castro helped pull his team closer with a sacrifice fly deep enough to score Loeffler from third.

After a Yau walk put runners on the corners, Benitez brought in Armstrong to make it 9-8, Yau moved up to third on the play. A walk to Andrew Malero helped set up the most important at-bat that Union City has had in this young postseason.

Zack Vallejo stepped to the dish 0-3 with a strike out. Having the bases loaded and the game hanging in the balance, it was a premiere story-book ending opportunity for the UCA center fielder. He stepped into the box, took a breather and let it rip. The end result, a screaming shot to center field just out of the reach of Gaines.

Yau crossed the plate with ease to even out the score, but all eyes were on Benitez as he trailed around third. The relay to the plate on line but Benitez slid into home and was safe when Mission's catcher dropped the ball.

"The kids are resilient; they never gave up." said Delgadillo. "Zack's (Vallejo) been struggling and I think this might help him come up."

In the double-elimination format, Mission staved off elimination, beating District 52's Redwood City (who lost to District 67's Tracy, 10-9, on Saturday) by a 10-6 count on Sunday, July 18. UCA next went up against Tracy on Monday, July 19, after D67 topped District 57's Livermore, 7-5, on Sunday (results of the game not available at press time; log onto for the score).

Mission will take on Livermore in another elimination match on Tuesday, July 20. First pitch at Max Baer Park in Livermore is set for 5:30 p.m. The Section 3 Senior tournament will conclude on Thursday, July 22, with a potential winner-take-all game on Friday, July 23. All starting times at 5:30 p.m.

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