By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
It was fitting that the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association’s most exciting postseason in a decade culminated with perhaps the most dramatic finish ever seen on the Field of Dreams last Thursday afternoon at the Palisades Recreation Center.
Trailing the Orioles by two runs heading to the bottom of the sixth inning in the deciding game of the Bronco Division championship series, the Dodgers rallied to even the score. Then, with two outs, Dylan Ardizzone singled up the middle to score Will Andrews from third and the Dodgers celebrated a hardfought 16-15 victory—their second straight title under head coach Jim Ford.
“Each and every player contributed so it’s awesome that our No. 8 hitter got the base hit to win the game—that’s what basball is all about,” said Ford, who piloted the boys in blue to a 12-11 triumph over the Cardinals to win the Bronco championship last spring, thanks to a walk-off hit by Wilson Buchanan. “These boys just refused to lose. I’ve never had a team as resilient as this. The kids never felt down, no matter what the score was.”
It was the 11th come-from- behind win of the season for the never say die Dodgers, who won five straight games after falling to the Cubs in their playoff opener. Ardizonne also had the go-ahead hit last Tuesday when the National League champions scored five runs in their last at-bat to beat the American League runner-up Orioles 9-6 and force a clincher two days later.
Ardizzone’s heroics seemed unlikely when the Dodgers built a commanding 13-7 lead in the first three innings in the finale. Much of the damage was done by starting pitcher Rowan Jen, who launched three balls over the fence and had seven RBIs. Saxon Wald led off the bottom of the first with a homer and had an RBI single in the third while Campbell Ford laced singles in the first and second innings and added a two-run hit in the third.
Orioles starting pitcher Caden Abraham (who belted a pair of homers in the first game of the championship series) hit an RBI grounder in the first inning, an RBI single in the third and a two-run homer in the fourth. James Rockwell hit two homers and Leo Velez belted a three-run shot to give the birds a 15-13 lead in the top of the sixth.
Jen led off the bottom of the frame with a single, Andrews (who went four-for-four at the plate) hit an RBI single and Brennan Clark tagged and scored the tying run from third on Harrison Rautbort’s sacrifice fly. After a strikeout, Andrews stole third and the stage was set for Ardizzone’s walk-off hit.
“These teams are so close,” said Jim Ford, whose son Campbell got the win on the mound. “These were two amazing games.”
Andrew Lubliner, Alexander Schultz and Alex Shapiro also played vital roles throughout the playoffs for the top-seeded Dodgers (16-6), who racked up 232 runs in 22 games.
“This is it for me,” Coach Ford confessed. “I’ve been doing this 11 seasons and winning a year ago was great, but this one is special because one month ago today my mom died. She was a huge fan and came to the games all the time. I told the kids to soak this in. Now we get to ride on the float in the parade on July 4.”
The Dodgers also won the Pinto Division in Douglas Silberberg’s first season coaching PPBA.
“They asked if I’d do it and it was a lot of fun,” Silberberg said after his team’s 11-7 win against the Tigers last Wednesday. “We have 13 great players and everyone has been hitting. When the top of the order doesn’t hit, the bottom does. This was truly a team effort.”
The Dodgers were second in the National League standings but ran the table in the playoffs, beating the Phillies (5-4), Cardinals (6-5) and Tigers (10-5) on their way to the championship series. The American League champion Tigers rebounded to beat the Yankees 11-9 to earn another shot at the Dodgers.
The Dodgers built a 6-1 lead through two innings and were ahead 9-3 heading to the fourth, but the Tigers roared back. A two-RBI double by Kellen Wald pulled them within 9-7 in the fifth.
The Dodgers responded in their half of the fifth. After Asher Collar reached on an error, Nathan Silberberg hit an inside-the-park homer to close out the scoring.
Grady Winget reached on an error to lead off the sixth inning and took second on a wide throw, but Donovan Del Negro made a clutch catch in deep center field to squelch the Tigers’ rally.
“We started out the season 1-3 and had a great turnaround,” Tigers Coach Darren Wald said. “We had one tough inning today and couldn’t recover but we showed character coming back like we did.”
Catchers Gavin Knyal and Malek Shamonki, infielders Luke Jacobs, Max Conchuratt, Holden Ames and Claudio Acuna and outfielders Max Palmer, Toby Daneshrad, Ryan Klein and Jacob Yoon all contributed to the Dodgers’ championship effort.
“The big key has been rebounding from our mistakes,” Silberberg said. “With 7, 8 and 9-year-olds you expect some errors, but these kids have really improved. I mixed the lineup at the end of the season. I shuffled the deck. All you can do is put kids in the right spots and hope for the best.”
Silberberg, who grew up in West LA and played in the Beverly Hills Little League, told his team to relax and have fun: “Even the pros strike out all the time. Just getting to the World Series is a big deal.”
While the Bronco battle certainly had fans on the edge of their seats, the Mustang Division series between the Orioles and Phillies followed a similar script.
The Orioles exploded for seven runs in the fourth inning, sparked by Dhilan Martin’s bases-clearing triple down the right field line, on their way to taking last Wednesday’s opener, 12-6.
One day later, the teams met again for all the marbles and produced an instant classic.
An RBI single by Jett Teegardin and a two-RBI double by JP Wardy gave the Phillies a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Teddy Grandy’s two-RBI single in the bottom half signaled a see-saw affair was ahead.
Bo Gardner doubled to lead off the top of the third and Caden Gendall singled him in. Later, Henry Lawrence hit a two-RBI single but Roman Hawk struck out the next two Phillies batters to escape a bases-loaded jam. Aydan Martin hit a two-run double in the bottom of the third. With the bases loaded in the fourth, Hawk was hit by a pitch to force home a run, Ethan Seung hit an RBI single and a third run scored on a ground out and suddenly the Orioles led, 7-6.
The Phillies regained the lead with two runs in the fifth, but Matthew Commons’ two-RBI double put the Orioles back on top.
Needing one run to keep their championship dreams alive in the top of the sixth, the Phillies loaded the bases with no outs. Luca Umekubo drilled a line drive inches inside the first base line that had double written all over it, but Commons snatched the ball out of midair and stepped on the bag for a double play. The next batter grounded back to pitcher Beckett Yi, who flipped to Commons at first for the final out and the Orioles raced from the dugout to dogpile after their gutsy 9-8 victory.
It marked the first PPBA title for Orioles head coach Steve Yi, who thought his team had the momentum after emerging from the loser’s bracket.
“The team from the winner’s bracket has to sit a week so maybe that helped us,” he said. “In nine years this is the most resilient group of boys I’ve coached. Just when you think they’re out of it, they have a nack for coming back.They kept putting themselves in a position to win and that’s all I can ask. This was definitely one of the most dramatic games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Michael Conner, Jack Mitchell-Newall, Anderson Pietrzak, Jake Treibatch and Captain Wagner all made key contributions at the plate, in the field and on the bases for the Orioles (12-11), who won it all despite finishing third in the American League standings behind the Yankees and Red Sox.
After edging the Cubs 7-6 and getting past the Tigers 6-4 in their first two playoff games, the Orioles were dealt a 10-5 defeat by the Phillies and pitcher Chander Desai. Facing elimination, the sixth-seeded Orioles rebounded to beat the Cardinals 21-5 to earn a rematch against the fourth-seeded Phillies, who were third in the National League behind the Cardinals and Cubs.
“Having played them in the previous game, we learned a few things,” Yi said. “They have Jett [Teegardin] and Chander [Desai] who are phenomenal pitchers, but we’ve been underdogs since the playoffs started.”
Shortly after their game ended, Mustang Orioles players gathered behind the left field fence of the opposite diamond to see if the Bronco Orioles could hang on against the Dodgers.
In the first game of the championship series, Grandy singled to center to score Hawk, Treibatch followed with an RBI single and Wagner’s two-hopper brought in a third run in the top of the first.
In the bottom half, Gardner blasted a leadoff triple to the fence and scored on Gendall’s triple. Gendall scored on a bloop hit by Hayes Weller.
In the third, Grandy was hit by a pitch with the bases full, scoring Hawk. In the bottom of the inning, Gardner walked, Gendall hit a ground rule double and Teegardin homered to put the Phillies ahead, 5-4. The Orioles’ big fourth inning gave them an 11-5 lead before Aydan Martin’s RBI single in the sixth closed out the scoring.