FAIRFIELD — Coming into Wednesday’s Area 1 tournament opener, Davis knew it would get a challenge as it was facing one of the region’s top Junior Legion baseball teams.
But the Blue Devils know how to put up a fight themselves, and they did just with a ferocious rally in the top of the seventh inning. Still, despite needing an extra eighth frame, the Napa Tribe eventually prevailed, 6-5.
The loss sends the locals into a 10 a.m. elimination game on Thursday at the Fairfield Expos’ stadium.
On Wednesday, Davis pitcher Ben D’Angelo and Napa’s Mitch Spinelli were dominant early, both taking no-hitters into the third inning. D’Angelo had his off-speed pitch working all day, leading him to finish with five strikeouts.
But in the bottom of the third, the Tribe used a throwing error to get on the board first. D’Angelo got two quick outs, but then walked Kyle Vanderschoot and Sam Dearden and hit Will Knopca to load the bases.
The miscue brought one run home and kept the bases filled, but D’Angelo regained his composure and used his trusty off-speed pitch to get Napa’s Reed Oster to fly out weakly to center.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth, the Devils used defense to fire themselves up.
D’Angelo supported his own cause, striking out one batter then getting the next by running over to the first-base line, scooping up a dribbling ground ball and firing it to a waiting Gavin Cosgrave for the out.
With two outs, Tribe hitter Kyle Gentry extended the inning by blasting a double to deep left-center field, bringing up Spinelli, who slapped a single to right. Gentry steamed toward third and rounded the bag, with no intention of stopping, but the Napa runner chose the wrong right fielder to mess with.
Pierce Tujo, who played for a European team in the 2010 Little League World Series, fielded Spinelli’s liner on one bounce and threw a laser toward home plate. Catcher Eric Walker caught the ball and applied the tag before Gentry could even attempt to slide.
Inspired by Tujo’s throw, Davis finally broke through in the top of the fifth …
Brendan Pohl led off with a single and was replaced there when Alex Timmons grounded into a fielder’s choice. Cosgrave followed with a single to put runners on first and second for Jake Guerrero.
Then, the Davis runners took advantage of a Spinelli’s poor pick-off toss to first. Timmons went to third, noticed a lackadaisical effort from the Napa first baseman and kept going. He scored easily to tie the game at 1-1.
The Tribe, however, responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth and the Blue Devils came into the seventh inning down 3-1.
Pohl greeted new Napa pitcher Trentyn Beardsley by working a walk and, after an out, Noah Riffle took one for the team to put two runners on.
After another out, Walker lived up to his name, earning a free pass to load the bases for James Richardson, who forced in a run with his own base-on-balls.
With the Tribe’s advantage cut to one run, Gabe Gutierrez stepped into a situation that all young baseball players dream of — bases loaded, two outs and needing a hit to keep your team alive. Gutierrez rose to the occasion taking an 0-1 fastball into left field to tie the game.
Up next, Tujo hit a blooper that stayed in the air just long enough for both Riffle and Richardson to score, giving Davis its first lead of the day at 5-3.
“We were doing what we could to get on base and get the next guy up, and it kept working, and it was a good momentum builder,” said Devil coach David Watts.
But once again, Napa had an answer, scoring twice to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh before relief pitcher Guerrero got out of a bases-loaded jam to force extras.
Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Knopa led off with a triple and scored the winning run on a costly Davis error.
“It hurt a little bit that these guys came back, but I think we played a good game overall, and I think we’ll play a good game (Thursday) because we have good things to build on,” Watts said. “This is higher competition here, all of these teams have won their respective districts, we just have to come back out here (Thursday) and do it again.”