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'Hall'-elujah, Lakeside powers through to final

9-8 win over Arizona keeps local Little Leaguers alive at Western Region tournament
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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An early-inning pitcher’s duel did not last as Lakeside Little League and its opponent from Arizona hung runs in bunches during a pair of big innings later on Friday night in Lakeside’s 9-8 win in the Western Region semifinals at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino. After the Northern California champions posted five in the top of the fourth frame to take a 7-2 advantage, Arrowhead Little League (Glendale, Ariz.) responded with a larger crooked number when it tallied six times in the home half of the fifth to put Lakeside three outs from elimination. Showing the same steely resolve that helped them run off five consecutive elimination-game wins in the Northern California tournament, the 12-year-olds from Granite Bay and Loomis answered the call one more time. Mitch Hart led off the sixth with a single, then moved to second on a wild pitch and took another 60 feet on a groundout to the right side. With Grant Powers hitting, Hart raced plate-ward on a ball that escaped the grasp of the catcher, but went no further than 15 feet away. His foot clipped the front edge of the dish just before the tag arrived, evening the count. That set the stage for more two-out heroics from Zach Hall, and the lefty delivered in the clutch once again, powering a long home run to centerfield to put his club back on top 9-8. “I almost gave him the take sign,” said Lakeside manager Bill Rockefeller. “I decided to let him swing away, and there it was. He is still bouncing off the walls.” With starter Nick Frank and Hall already beyond the 20-pitch mark that will render them ineligible for Sunday’s finale, Rockefeller turned to Hart, the flame-throwing right-hander, to stare down the top of the Arizona order in the bottom of the sixth. It was no contest. Hart blew away the first two batters, and then hit No. 3 before fanning Tyler Watts to extend Lakeside’s season once again. “He (Hart) was blowing gas,” Rockefeller said. “When he plunked their No. 3 hitter, I think he scared No. 4. If you were gunning him, he was probably up around 75 (MPH) and he did not throw one off-speed pitch.” Frank took the ball for Lakeside at the outset, and posted zeroes through the first two stanzas. He helped his own cause in the top half of the third as his two-run long ball provided the contest’s first scoring. Arrowhead had an answer for the two-run bomb, and it managed to chase home a pair of runs in the bottom half of the third to equalize the score at 2-2. It was the Lakeside reserves that set the table for the five-run fourth inning uprising, and the top of the order cashed them in. Matt Berry drew a one-out free pass to get things started, and then a Matt Steindorf infield single and a walk to Myles Slattery jammed the bags as the District 54 champs turned the lineup over. Berry scored on a wild pitch before Frank and Billy Rockefeller drove in runs for Lakeside. Walks to Hart and Connor Briare kept the inning churning, and a bases-loaded base on balls issued to Hall forced in the inning’s fifth tally. A double play ball helped Frank make quick work of Arizona in the fourth, and after Lakeside stranded a pair of runners in the fifth, it was Arizona’s turn to explode. An error opened the door, and then consecutive base hits loaded the bases and chased Frank from the hill. With Hall on in relief, Arrowhead took advantage of the drawn-infield and just kept pecking away, playing station-to-station until it had wrested away the advantage with a six-run stanza. The difficult fifth gave way to the drama of the sixth, as Hall and Hart donned the heroes’ mantle on this night and provided this Lakeside team the chance to fight on in hopes of a World Series berth. “They never gave up,” Rockefeller said. “It was a fun win and it was good to win one that way. It will make us a better team.” Just one squad stands between Lakeside and a trip to Williamsport, Penn., and it is a major obstacle indeed. Park View Little League from Chula Vista will be in the opposite dugout in Sunday night’s 5 p.m. final. The Southern California champions beat Nevada 15-2 in Friday’s other semifinal, and they have scored 87 runs with 34 home runs in five regional tournament games thus far. Hart will be on the bump for Lakeside, and the classic battle between power pitcher and power hitters will be seen live on ESPN2.