Were you one of the lucky Palo Alto Little League baseball fans that made it to the game between Bike Connection and Palo Alto Wealth Advisors (PAWA) on Friday night? Tickets were tough to get … okay we don’t have tickets, but parking was definitely in high demand–there were even some double parked cars. It was a pitchers dual through 5 innings with a small explosion of offense in the 6th that featured a towering HR that ricocheted off the PALL Logo on the scoreboard in right field. But whose bats were the biggest? Who would come out on top with a W? Would Bike Connection force a decisive, if-needed, Championship game, part 2? Or would PAWA take home the hardware and the title of Majors City Champs?
On the mound for PAWA, Nate Signorello-Katz showed full command of the ball and power that comes with a well rested arm–firing three straight fastballs to begin the game and getting ahead 1-2 on Bike’s leadoff batter, Micah Satterthwaite. But Bike Connection was not intimidated. Micah promptly put the next fastball he saw in play but with a clean pick and transfer of the ball, SS Rafa Ballagas’s throw just beat out the speedy runner. The next batter, Erik Lo, showed the same resolve, fouling off pitches and finally dialing in on a inside fastball, that he managed to fire through the gap between 3B and SS for a single. Angel Ochoa followed with his own scorching hit down the first base line for a double. Knowing runs might be scarce, Bike was aggressive on the bases and Erik was sent home as the ball reached the infield, but a slight bobble of the ball was enough to allow Erik to score the first run of the game unchallenged. Two batters later, Anthony Chen took another fastball to the opposite field for a single that softly landed between the first baseman and right fielder that allowing Angel to score easily from third and put Bike Connection up 2-0 after their first at bat.
Not to be out done, PAWA’s offense showed that it wasn’t phased by Bike’s early run production. Trusting its own bats, the PAWA batters stepped in to the box, ready to battle it out against Bike Connections Angel Ochoa who took the mound after a dominant outing against AJ Tutoring on Monday night. While Angel got off to an early 0-2 count against lead off Hobbs Hernadez, Hobbs fought back to even the count at 2-2 fouling off what would have been strike three and then blooped a ball over the pitcher that landed softly in front of the shortstop for an infield single. After striking out the the next batter on three pitches for his first strikeout of the game, Angel’s next opponent was the league leading HR hitter Nate. On his first swing of the game, Nate S sent a towering fly ball into right that landed just fair–but well short of the fence for a single that advanced Hobbs to third base. The next batter, Rafa Ballagas, quickly lined a ball up the middle into center field scoring two runs and advancing to second when the ball squirted off the center fielder’s glove. After Rafa advanced to third on a pass ball, Baadj Ahluwalia hit a chopper back up the middle. With quick reflexes and full grasp of the situation, Angel secured the ball, checked the runner at third, then threw a strike to catcher Erik Lo for the put out at home to keep the run off the board.
At the end of 1, the score was 2-2. In the second inning, both pitchers settled in and shook off any early nerves that they may have had. Nate S struck out the side in the top half of the inning. While with one out, Julie Kassel reached second, putting a runner in scoring position for PAWA, Angel escaped the inning fielding two ground balls himself and putting out the batter at first two preserve the tie game.
In the third, the offenses again came to life. With one out, Bike’s Ethan Lo drew a walk then advanced on a heads up play after tagging up on pop fly caught in foul territory. Erik Lo then notched his first RBI on the game with his second hit of the game. While Bike threatened to add more runs with runners on first and third, Nate struck out the next batter to end the threat. In the bottom of the 3d inning, with two outs, PAWA offense managed a mini rally to tie the game again, and Rafa recorded his third RBI of the night with a single to right field. With runners on 1st and third, Baadj tried to punch a ball through the right side of the infield, but Jameson Helsaple ranged to his left and with an outreached glove snagged the ball before it could reach the outfield and quick threw to first to just beat the runner to end the inning and saving at least 1 run.
In the fourth, Nate struck out the side for the second time in the game to keep the score tied at 3. The start of the bottom of the fourth eerily mirrored the bottom of the second. As they did in the second, Bike again recorded the first out, but the next batter reached safely when Connor Blair hit a ground ball to second. As he sped towards first, Bike’s second baseman was forced to rush his throw and drew the first baseman off the bag. But Bike’s Angel once against stepped up–first striking out the next batter and then alertly throwing the ball to Micah to catch the runner on a delayed steal to end the inning.
In the fifth inning, pitch counts rising and the pitch limit approaching, Nate took the mound in hopes of getting his team through one more inning. But Jameson battled and while he struck out, he also managed to draw enough pitches to ensure that Nate wouldn’t be able to finish the inning. After walking the next batter, perhaps fatigue was settling in too, Nate was replaced on the mound by Julie Kassel. Bike took advantage of the change and managed to get two singles before Julie coaxed a easy line drive to record the second out and keep any runners for advancing further. With the bases loaded and the top of the order due up, PAWA made another pitching change, bringing in Rafa B. But with only a few warm up pitches, Rafa Ballagas walked the first batter putting a run on the board. With two hits already in the game, Erik Lo looked to add to his stat line. After fouling off the first offering, he poked a fly ball into shallow left field just inside the foul line. But determined to not allow any more runs, Nate, now playing shortstop, sprinted toward the ball and reached up over his head securing the ball in his glove as he fell to the ground to record the third out of the inning and keep Bike from adding to its lead.
In the bottom of the 5th, Angel also was nearing his pitch limit. Similar to the previous half inning, Bike made a pitching change after recording an out and one runner reaching safely sitting on first base. Jameson Helsaple took the rock from Angel, and proceeded to throw four straight strikes to start, but the fourth found the barrel of Sumedh Chakka’s bat for a single putting runners on 1st and third. But Jaemson remained calm and struck out the next batter and forced an easy ground ball out.
With a thin one-run lead and the meat of PAWA’s lineup due up in the bottom of the sixth, Bike Connection looked to add some insurance runs to ease the pressure. Displaying great plate discipline, Bike Connection quickly loaded the bases with just one out. The second half of Bike’s batting order came through. Liam Murphy recorded his first hit of the game for an RBI single, then Jameson plated another run on a line drive to left field that landed safely for a single. After Ian Nilsen drew his second walk of the game to score another run, Brady Pen hit another single, scoring another run. After the dust settled, Bike connection had a commanding 9-3 lead.
Not willing to concede, PAWA came out swinging. In the bottom of the sixth, Nate came to bat as the PAWA faithful looked on waiting for him to unleash the power of his bat as he had done many times earlier this season (11 times in the regular season, a new PALL record since Little League International implemented the USABat standard in 2018). After a fouling off the first offer, Nate took a mighty swing and launched a no-doubt, line drive well over the right field fence rebounding off the scoreboard back on to the field. Rallying behind their teammate, PAWA proceeded to put 3 of the next 4 runners on base and scored two more runs. But it just wasn’t quite enough, as Bike recorded the final out and won the game 9-6, forcing the winner-take-all, Championship on Saturday, May 20, 5:30 pm at Middlefield Ballpark!