The Davis National and American teams appeared so evenly matched when they clashed Tuesday in the first round of the Little League District 64 Junior All-Star Tournament that they nearly needed more than the regulation seven innings to decide a winner.
But RBIs from DNLL’s Gabe Gutierrez and Connor Bunfill in the bottom of the sixth were enough to send their team to a 6-2 triumph over DALL at the Winters High junior varsity field.
The local squads — both of which continue play in the double-elimination tournament bracket — were in a gridlock most of the way.
The Americans were the first to swing the bats, but struggled to make anything of it against the pitching of Ryan Bell. The DNLL hurler tallied five strikeouts in the first two innings before getting lifted.
In his stead, Trevor Hewitt continued to shake the DALL batters. Hewitt earned a trio of strikeouts in the third inning to shut down the Americans’ hopes of scoring a run despite Tony Munoz getting on third, after he started the frame with a hit.
But the Nationals’ offense was similarly quiet early, as Sebastian Costa of DALL held them to two hits during his five full innings on the mound. But as it happened one of those hits led to the first runs of the evening.
It was DNLL slugger and third baseman Jacob Wieking’s hard shot to shortstop in the bottom of the fourth that did it. He stole second an at-bat later, and made it home on an error.
The Americans equalized with a run of their own in the top of the fifth, as Munoz once more used his agility to steal his way around the diamond after getting walked. He came home on a passed ball to tie the game at 1-1.
With the Nationals at the plate in the bottom half, DALL third baseman Dylan Schmidt and first baseman Manuel Costa worked in concert to stop three consecutive grounders and close out the inning in short order.
Following a nearly three-up, three-down inning (with one walk aside), the Nationals were at it again. Momentum built in what had thus far been a low-scoring game, after two walks and a hit by pitch loaded the bases for DNLL.
A pitching change by the Americans (to Ryan Holgate) calmed the tension some, as he sent two batters back to the dugout on swinging strikeouts. But needing one more out to escape the jam, he pegged a batter to make it a 2-1 game.
Then, Nationals leadoff hitter Bunfill smacked a line-drive up the middle for an RBI and Gutierrez followed it up by blasting the ball to the left-field fence to clear the bases and put his team up 6-1.
The Americans got out of the inning with a fielded pop-up, but despite Munoz walking and stealing around the bases for the second time in the top of the seventh, Gutierrez — now on the mound — closed out the win.
“Overall though, I honestly don’t think we could have played any harder than they did,” said DALL coach Dominic Costa. “(We) played really well against a good team.”
Seeing his guys play so well gave Costa confidence as the Americans head into an elimination game Wednesday against Vacaville Central (5:30 p.m. at the Winters varsity field).
It’s a similar philosophy that’s held by Kevin Bell, the mentor for the NL Juniors, who is preparing his squad for a Thursday (5:30 p.m.) matchup against Winters at its own varsity field.
“The kids never gave up,” Bell said. “They struggled early against a good pitcher and defense, but they kept battling. Towards the end it started clicking for them.
“That same approach of get out there, give your best effort, play the game and have fun is what we’re taking to this next game.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett