By Rick Assad
Special to MyBurbank
Two defensive errors in the top of the sixth inning proved pivotal in the Burbank Nationals’ 2-1 victory over Crescenta Valley Gangi in Wednesday night’s District 16 Little League Tri-Cities Majors Tournament of Champions game at Babe Herman Field in Glendale.
With the victory, the Nationals forced a rematch with Gangi tonight at 6:30 p.m. for the winner-takes-all championship, which will be contested at the same site. The tournament is run in a double-elimination format.
The go-ahead run was tallied by the Nationals’ Blaine Traxel, who reached first base on CV third baseman Chuck Meyer’s miscue, and dashed all the way home when Gangi ace Justyn Chang fielded Chris Magoon’s bouncer, but then uncorked an errant throw that went down the right-field line.
“We told them to take a pitch,” Nationals manager Thomas Magoon said. “He’s [Chang] a star pitcher, and I knew the first time we saw him we’d have a tough time. I told our guys that we wanted to put the ball in play, and hope they make mistakes.”
Chang was dominant on the mound, and also drilled a booming solo homer in the bottom of the first inning off Joe Metcalf, whose waist-high fastball caught too much of the plate.
As soon as Chang’s bat connected with the ball it traveled in a high arc and easily cleared the left-field fence by 75 feet.
Chang also singled to left field in the third inning with two out, but was left stranded.
“The boys played a great game,” Gangi manager Tom Harbolt said. “We made a couple of errors that cost us, and we had a base-running error.”
Metcalf toiled one inning, surrendering three hits and one run (earned), while walking one and striking out one.
Metcalf was spared a second run when Chase Smith, who led off the first inning with an infield single, and then went to second base on a wild pitch, was thrown out by center fielder Nick MacDonald at third base as Carter Kessinger applied the tag.
“If I do my best it always works out for me,” said Traxel, the winning pitcher who fanned 11 and walked one with no runs, while giving up two hits over five innings.
After struggling early against Chang, who took the loss, the Nationals somewhat solved the hard-throwing right-hander in the fourth inning when Kessinger opened the frame with a double down the left-field line.
Kessinger advanced to third base on Magoon’s bouncer to Chang, and scored on a passed ball that tied it at 1-1.
“We have our No. 2 pitcher going in the championship game, and hopefully he’ll be effective,” said Chris Magoon, who was behind the plate in Wednesday’s clash.
Chang worked a perfect fifth inning, and allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) in five and two-third innings, striking out 11 and walking one.
In the first inning, Chang fanned Chance Van Hook, and then gave up an infield single to Traxel before striking out Kessinger and Magoon.
Damon Householder was safe on an one-out infield hit off Chang in the second inning, but was caught stealing. Chang struck out MacDonald to end the frame.
Chang fanned Jesse Rodriguez to open the third inning, added Alex Rho to the strikeout list, but yielded Kenny Won’s single to right field, before whiffing Traxel.
Gangi shortstop Hunter Cuneo, who singled to right center in the first inning, made a dazzling catch of MacDonald’s popup in short left field to begin the fifth. Chang struck out Rodriguez and Matthew Sanchez to close out the inning.
With two out, Hudson Harbolt reached on an infield hit in the fifth inning for Gangi, and after Chang was intentionally walked, Cuneo grounded out.
NOTES: In the District 16 Little League Tri-Cities Minors title game at Babe Herman Field, the Burbank Cardinals routed Foothill 7-1 as Eric Serna scored two runs, while Jorge Gutierrez, the winning pitcher, crossed the plate three times. Also scoring for the Cardinals were Joseph Estrada and Luis Mendez.
The Cardinals took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, then added two runs in the third and two more in the fourth before Josh Malone scored Foothill’s lone run in the bottom of the fourth.
With the Minor Cardinals winning the Tri-Cities Minors Championship last evening, the Burbank Little League has now won back-to-back championships for the minors division (8, 9 and 10 year olds).