Maidu bats stay hot, force one more game with Lakeside

Major division all-star tournament finale Wednesday
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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Somewhere along its way through a series of elimination games in the District 54 Major division all-star tournament, Maidu Little League found its hitting stroke. That, combined with the overpowering pitching of Coleman Harrigan, was bad news Tuesday for the kids from Lakeside. Maidu scored runs early as it took care of business in a must-win battle Tuesday on Lakeside’s home field at Feist Park in Granite Bay, knocking off the host team 8-1. "After two weeks we are where we wanted to be - in the championship game," said Lakeside coach Jack Sutch. "I think the boys learned the old baseball adage that great pitching beats great hitting. Maidu pitched beautifully and on offense really squared up on Darren." The victory forces one final winner-take-all rubber match between these two neighboring leagues for the district championship. After all of the games over the past three weeks, Maidu and Lakeside will slug it out at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday for the crown. The first time these teams met in this tournament, Maidu got a leadoff home run from Michael Birch and then went silent offensively pretty much the rest of the way against Lakeside’s 11-year-old Darren Nelson. Lakeside took that game 3-2 and sent Maidu to the consolation bracket. With Nelson on the hill once again Tuesday, this game was very different. “Against Nelson we knew he would go predominantly with the off-speed so we moved up in the box and tried to be patient and hit our pitch,” said Maidu manager Greg Zanolli. “We were very confident they would go back to Nelson and that we would have more success than we did the first time around.” Birch was hit by a pitch to open the contest, and then Max Shaw and Jake Rodrigues singled back-to-back to get Maidu on the board with its first run, but it was not over there. Tim Wieser plated Shaw with a ground ball out and Rodrigues scored on a passed ball to finish off a three-run home half of the first frame. “It was huge for our team to come out and hold them scoreless in the first and then score three runs right away,” Zanolli said. “With our pitching and defense, if we score three runs we believe that will be enough.” As it turned out, that was more than enough for Harrigan, the flame-throwing right-hander who kept Lakeside from mounting any kind of serious rally during a strong complete game performance. “Coleman was fantastic tonight, with only three balls getting out of the infield,” Zanolli said. He mixed his pitches brilliantly and between his placement and his change-up and curveball he had them off balance all night.” Lakeside had base runners in the game, but never was able to bunch much together. Ryan Ingersoll opened the game with a single for Lakeside, but he was stranded after Harrigan used a strikeout and two ground balls to get out of the inning. In the second stanza, it was Kevin Baranowski reaching with an inning-opening infield single, but they could not move him along as Harrigan struck out the next three hitters. They did get to Harrigan for one unearned run in the top half of the third, but that was the extent of Lakeside’s scoring. "In two games against Maidu we have only a handful of hits and four runs, simply not enough offense to carry us," Sutch said. With one out, Ingersoll walked. He advanced 60 feet on a groundout and then scored on a throwing error. Charlie Tooley singled to left field, and with Ingersoll rounding third to put pressure on the Maidu defense, the left fielder launched a throw that sailed over the head of Birch, the Maidu catcher. Having stopped at third, the miscue allowed Ingersoll to reverse direction and race home with the run. Hits by Ingersoll and Jack Sutch put two on base in the fifth for Lakeside, but that came with two outs and Harrigan delivered the inning-ending strikeout to end that opportunity. In the game, Harrigan fanned 11 Lakeside hitters and allowed just five hits, two of them of the infield variety. Maidu put the game on ice in the home half of the third, hanging four runs on Lakeside. Again the inning opened with Birch, who drew a base on balls. With one out, Rodrigues singled to center field and then Wieser walked to jam the bags. Joseph Zanolli chased home the first run with a sacrifice fly to right field and then Jordan Couch and Harrigan drove home two more nails – Couch with an RBI single and Harrigan with a two-run base knock that gave him a six-run cushion. Zanolli drove in Maidu’s final tally with a fourth-inning single. All told, Maidu banged out nine hits in the contest, all of which were singles, but its ability to bunch those hits and make productive outs gave it the advantage on this day. “I was surprised that all nine of our hits were singles but we took what they gave us and we were very successful in getting sac flies and RBI groundouts to capitalize without the extra base hit,” Zanolli said. “What is great about this team is we can play small ball or play with the long ball as well.” Ingersoll had two hits to lead Lakeside, while Rodrigues led Maidu with three identical singles back through the box. The Maidu shortstop is particularly adept at hitting with two strikes, and showed that again Tuesday night. Harrigan had two hits in the game. “Rodrigues has been pretty amazing as he is hitting .737 in the tournament but his patience is something you don't see in a hitter at this age,” Zanolli said. “He simply waits for the pitcher to make a mistake or with two strikes he routinely puts the ball in play hard and it finds an opening.” Rodrigues is likely to take the ball when these two teams meet in Wednesday’s ultimate championship final at Feist Park. He will probably be opposed by Lakeside’s Jack Sutch in what should be a classic battle, with the winner moving on to the Section 4 tournament that begins Saturday at Folsom’s Mann Park. “We are very confident that Rodrigues will pitch a great game tomorrow night and we can't ask for a better position to be in for our ninth game of the tournament as our complete pitching staff is ready to go with the exception of Harrigan,” Zanolli said. “Our team is playing very loose and confident and we are getting contributions from all12 players and if that continues we will be very difficult to beat. Lakeside is a very good team and tomorrow night should be a great Little League baseball game and we are really looking forward to the challenge of winning our fifth game in seven nights.” Wednesday’s final begins at 5:30 p.m. "The great thing about baseball how quickly tonight’s game is over," Sutch said. "Tomorrow brings new pitchers, new lineups and a whole new attitude. For Wednesday, with Rodriguez pitching and knowing how well he throws, we need to find some players who will battle at the plate. Timely hitting is vital. And as always, we need our pitchers to throw well and keep the score low."