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Lakeside completes pool play unbeaten at Western Region

5-3 win over Hawaii Wednesday afternoon
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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It was not accomplished in the most attractive fashion, but at this level you take the wins any way you can get them. The Lakeside Little League Major all-stars completed an unbeaten run through the pool-play round at the Western Region tournament in San Bernardino Wednesday afternoon with a 5-3 win over Hawaii. The game was one of huge importance to the team from Central East Maui Little League, which is still looking to secure one of the final two open spots in the semifinal round Friday night, while for Lakeside it was merely about positioning. The 12 and 13-year-olds from Granite Bay and Loomis were guaranteed to play on Friday whatever the outcome, but the win and favorable score puts them into the No. 1 seed at the end of four pool-play contests. The District 54 champions did not exactly set Al Houghton Stadium on fire with their bats, as Lakeside banged out just three hits in the game. The club took advantage of the wildness of Hawaii starter Nick Asuncion as Lakeside plated four runs in the first inning on a combination of five walks and just two hits, and then made the lead stand up. “Our bats kind of went to sleep today,” said Lakeside manager Bill Rockefeller. “We lost focus a little. We had similar pulse in the game against Los Altos (the team’s only other loss at the Northern California tourney).” Nick Frank and Mitch Hart walked to put a pair of runners aboard with one out in the first, and then a Connor Briare knock cashed in the initial tally. Running for Hart, Matt Steindorf stole home for the second run while Hawaii was attempting to pick Grant Powers, who had walked to load the bags, off of first base. Zach Hall singled a run home before Matt McCord and Brett Munkdale drew bases on balls to force the stanza’s fourth run across the dish. The inning could have been much more devastating for Central East Maui, but Asuncion got a big strikeout to leave the sacks full. The home half of the frame took on a similar look as Briare struggled to find the zone. Two free passes put runners aboard for Hawaii with two down, and it was Asuncion chasing home his team’s first run with a base hit. Briare got out of the jam, leaving two aboard to keep his advantage at 4-1 after one. After Asuncion walked the leadoff hitter in the second, Hawaii went to the bullpen for Rossi Abordo, and he delivered in a big way to keep his team in the game. After yielding a solo long ball to McCord in the third, Abordo did allowed just one more base runner the rest of the way, on a fourth inning free pass. He did escape one jam in the second when the runner he inherited, Billy Rockefeller, was ruled to have left early when tagging and scoring from third base on a Briare fly ball. Hawaii crept a little closer on a Noah Apolo solo shot in its half of the third, but Briare left the bump after three with a 5-2 lead. Central East Maui put two runners aboard against Dylan Keeney in the fourth, but Rockefeller turned to Nick Frank to pitch out of the tough spot. Lakeside used Frank and then Hart for 20 pitches each, preserving the eligibility of both hurlers for Friday and possibly beyond, and then went to Steindorf with one on and two outs in the sixth. A two-out error, a pair of base hits and a walk chased one home for Hawaii, and put the tying run at second base with the bases loaded and two outs. With the game on the line, Rockefeller gave the ball to Munkdale, who made his inaugural trip to the hill in the postseason. The right-hander responded, getting a ground ball to short, leading to a force out at second base that sealed the win for Lakeside. After Nevada's win over Arizona Wednesday night, Hawaii was officially eliminated from the tournament, as Arizona (1-3) wins the tiebreaker based on head-to-head play against Hawaii. Lakeside will meet the team from Arrowhead Little League in Glendale in Friday's second semifinal. With both Lakeside and the Southern California champions from Chula Vista finishing 4-0 in pool play, the tiebreaker goes to the kids from Nor Cal based on a formula that rewards the team with the fewest runs allowed. As the No. 1 seed, Lakeside will play the Arizona team it beat 4-1 on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Friday, while Park View Little League from Southern California will face Legacy Little League from Henderson, Nev. in the 4 p.m. semifinal matchup. Nevada gave Park View its most competitive pool-play game, losing 10-5 on Tuesday night. Despite the hitting troubles that plagued his team today, Rockefeller is confident his club with rebound for Friday night. “I am concerned about the hitting,” Rockefeller said, “but we have rallied back before and I think we will be fine.” The Lakeside manager will choose between Hart and Frank to take the ball on Friday night, but he would also be comfortable calling on Hall. It will be difficult for the man who has preached one game at a time not to look ahead and try to save his best pitching matchup for Southern California in a possible Sunday evening final. The boys from Chula Vista have scored 72 runs in four Western Region games, and have ripped 28 homes runs over that stretch. Lakeside’s pitching has allowed just five runs in its four games as it has dominated from the bump and by being outstanding with the leather. “You have to play it one game at a time in tournament play,” Rockefeller said. “Arizona has some offensive power and great defense. All three pitchers are good matchups for us, but there is probably one who fits the best against the Southern California hitters.” With his team sitting two wins away from a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn., Rockefeller is pleased with this and the way it plays the game. “It’s all bonus baseball now,” he said. “The kids have done a fabulous job.”