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July 24, 2012 > Junior All Stars deep run ends after dramatic finishes

Junior All Stars deep run ends after dramatic finishes

Submitted By Ed Hugo, Photo by Mike Heightchew

The Mission San Jose (MSJLL) Junior All-Stars rallied their way into the CA Section 3 Tournament by claiming the District 14 championship in a heart-pounding, white knuckle 8-7 victory over Niles Centerville (NCLL). MSJLL staged a three-run rally in the final inning with two outs, no one on base and the potential third out down to their last strike. But rally they did as four consecutive base hits plated the tying and winning runs. This truly was a game that will be remembered by players, coaches and fans for a long time.

To even get to this game, MSJLL needed to defeat NCLL in the first championship game. And they did with a 6-3 victory that featured NCLL getting out to an early 3-1 lead only to have MSJLL rally for five unanswered runs to force the exciting 'what if' game.

The 6-3 victory forced a final do-or-die championship game between the same two teams. And what a game it was. For the fourth different lead change in the game, MSJLL overcame a 4-3 deficit in the bottom of the sixth on back-to-back doubles from Mikie Pyle and Stanley Chiang, setting the score at 5-4. But NCLL rallied back as Devin Duran's two-run double in the top of the seventh inning put NCLL on top with a 7-5 lead, and putting MSJLL's back against the wall.

MSJLL then came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning and NCLL recorded two quick outs. With MSJLL down to its final out, with a two-two count, Hanson Wang laced a double to right center, and barely eluded a potential game-ending tag at second base. Mark Gaffey followed with a line drive single up the middle, driving Wang home to cut NCLL's lead to 7-6. With Kevin Zhangxu at the plate, Gaffey stole second and moved to third on an NCLL error. Zhangxu then grounded a single up the middle to drive home Gaffey and tie the score at seven. Pyle then came to the plate and, after taking a called strike, became the hero of the hour as he slammed a deep drive over the centerfielder's head. As Zhangxu scrambled around the bases, the centerfielder made a strong throw to the second baseman who relayed the ball toward home plate. A charging Zhangxu slid in just under catcher's attempted tag, and MSJLL claimed the District 14 Junior Division title.

MSJLL opened up in the CA Section 3 Tournament against a scrappy team from Half Moon Bay (HMB) and never trailed in the game. Spoorthy Vemula pitched the first four innings and allowed four runs with only two of them earned, but MSJ's offense carried the squad. Mikie Pyle pounded three hits for four RBIs, including a booming two-run double that gave MSJLL the early 2-0 lead. Stanley Chiang ripped a two out double in the fifth inning to put MSJ up 6-2. HMB began to stage a comeback in the seventh as they cut the score to 7-5, but Chiang squashed the rally, striking out the final batter of the game and sealing the MSJLL victory.

MSJLL's second sectional game against Livermore American (LA) was also a wild one, as it contained five different lead changes. Despite strong pitching performances from Aaron Havard and Mark Gaffey, once again, MSJLL found itself behind heading into the last inning-this time by the score of 7-6. Nevertheless, MSJLL was clutch as ever as Kevin Zhangxu's run scoring single tied the game and Pyle smashed a long double to drive home Gaffey and Zhangxu and put MSJ ahead 9-7. Pyle would score off an LA error, giving MSJLL a 10-7 lead heading into the final half-inning. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, LA scored two runs off a long double, closing the gap to 10-9. However, Zhangxu, who had come in to relieve in the fifth, struck out the final batter of the game, sending MSJLL to the finals.

MSJLL needed one win to advance to the Division II (Northern California) championships. Unfortunately, MSJLL could not pull it off, as they suffered two consecutive tough losses to HMB, who had to win four straight games to advance after losing their first game to MSJLL 7-5. HMB will represent California Section 3 in the Junior Division II Tournament from July 21-27.

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