For the most part, the Rio Rico Juniors have been relentless so far in the Little League West Region All-Star Tournament in Vancouver, Wash.
After demolishing Montana 19-3 on Thursday—and nipping Hawaii 7-6 on Saturday—Rio Rico broke out of the gates strong for their third straight game during a 7-0 whitewashing of Southern California yesterday afternoon at Kindsfather Field.
In fact, after scoring one run in the bottom of the first inning, Rio Rico took that 7-0 lead with a six-run bottom of the fourth—and never looked back as they cruised the rest of the way to shutout previously undefeated SoCal.
It dropped SoCal’s record to 2-1, while upping Rio Rico’s to 3-0 in Pool 2—matching Alaska’s perfect 3-0 slate in Pool 1.
Rio Rico now goes on to play Washington (2-1) in one of today’s semifinal games at 1:30 p.m. The other semifinals game pits undefeated Alaska versus Southern California, which dropped to 2-1.
Helping Rio Rico get there yesterday were two RBI from Gerardo Lopez, two hits and an RBI from Sean Fanning, plus seven complete innings of pitching from Cesar Dominguez, who struck out three, walked four and gave up only two hits in 94 pitches.
“It was a great performance again by Cesar,” Rio Rico skipper Trini Lopez said of his ace after the contest. “He pitched a great game.”
Rio Rico also got RBI from Angel Chavez, Ralph Padilla, Michael Escobar and German Rodriguez—most of them in the bottom of the fourth inning when Rio Rico posted their half dozen runs.
“It’s great to have everyone involved,” Lopez said. “They played fundamental baseball, and played perfect defense with no errors.”
Not only that, but Rio Rico turned a nice double play in the contest, and had another great outfield catch by Rodriguez—while SoCal committed two errors in the loss.
“We’ve just been in the right place at the right time,” Lopez said of his defense. “When they hit it, we were right there to stop them … so it’s nice to have the combination of offense and defense.”
Rio Rico will need that combination against a Washington club that Lopez says is a “pretty good defensive team … and also quick on the bases.
“And they hit when they have to; with runners in scoring position,” he added, “so I’m sure it’s going to be a great battle.”
If they survive that battle, Lopez is hoping his squad will face Alaska in the finals—not only because they’ve already faced SoCal, but also because they are familiar with a few of the Alaska players, having played them in San Bernardino, Calif., two years ago in the West Region tournament as Majors.
“They’re nice kids. We spent some time with them back then,” Lopez explained. “Don’t get me wrong, you can’t count out any California team, but I just wish it could be an Alaska-Arizona game in the finals.”
That would be on Wednesday at 5 p.m. if it happens, but Rio Rico has to get past Washington first—a fact that’s not lost on Lopez or his boys, who have a classic motivation.
“Hopefully we can play like we did today,” Lopez said. “The kids were pumped up. I guess they don’t want to go back to school.”
A win today and tomorrow would also give these kids their first World Series berth, and this core group of kids Santa Cruz County’s second 2013 World Series berth, after the Nogales Intermediate All-Stars also made it to the ultimate Little League stage this season in Livermore, Calif., where they went 1-2.
If Rio Rico were to make it, they would play in Taylor, Mich., from Aug. 11-17.
A closer look
Rio Rico has now outscored its West Region opponents 33-9.
To get to the West Region tourney, Rio Rico went undefeated in beating Douglas 13-3, Bisbee 22-0 and Douglas again 10-0 in the District 8 championship game for a total winning margin of 45-3.
In the state tourney, they went 5-0 with a winning margin of 47-18. They had wins over Silver Creek, Santa Rita, Tempe Guadalupe, the Southeast Diamondbacks and Paradise Valley 4-2 in the July 25 title game. The closest game in that stretch was a 12-11 nail-biter over the Southeast Diamondbacks on July 22.
This same core group of kids has four state titles under their belt in the last five years, with the only blemish coming in an extra-inning loss to Yuma last season in the finals.
On Saturday, Rio Rico also started fast with three runs in the bottom of the second inning after Hawaii scored one in the top of the frame.
Hawaii then narrowed the margin to 3-2 in the top of the third before Rio Rico combined for four unanswered runs on RBI from Chavez, Lopez and Brian Garcia (plus a wild pitch) in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to give them a 7-2 lead heading into the final stanza.
Hawaii did rally with four runs on a fielder’s choice and three singles in their last at-bat, but they were still one run shy of completing the comeback.
On the day, Rio Rico nailed six hits and was led in RBI by Lopez with two. Chavez also scored twice and had an RBI double that scored Kevin Jimenez in the bottom of the second. Rio Rico batters also walked 11 times and were struck out on just five occasions.
Oscar Lechuga pitched 6 2/3-innings for Rio Rico and gave up 11 hits, walked three and struck out two before being relieved by Michael Escobar, who got the final out.