The La Cañada 12-year-old baseball team extended its historic summer tournament run by defeating Placentia, 10-0, in six innings to win the Pony Western Zone tournament in Moreno Valley last weekend.
With the victory, the local squad will represent the West in the Pony Baseball World Series, a feat no other La Cañada team has achieved. The young players will travel to Laredo, Texas, to take on a team from Fort Worth on Friday, July 30, at 1 p.m.
“This does not seem possible. A team from La Cañada is going to the World Series,” said manager Matt Regan, a La Cañada High School graduate. “I keep saying it, but I cannot believe it is true. I don’t think the boys can believe it either, and I know the parents can’t believe it.”
L.C. opened the Western Zone tourney by clobbering a squad from Orem, Utah, 16-1, and followed that with an 8-4 win over Placentia. The team didn’t let up and cruised past Monterey in a 16-6 victory before defeating Placentia, the defending World Series champion, for a second time behind stellar pitching performances from Nicholas Pieper and Fritz Phillips. The duo combined to toss a three-hit shutout to secure a World Series berth.
“This was the closest 10-0 game I have ever been a part of, a scoreless tie 0-0 through four innings, and after five complete innings we held only a 1-0 lead,” Regan said.
Pieper started the championship game on the mound for L.C. and entered the matchup coming off a complete-game, four-hit shutout over Olive Pony of Orange. The young pitcher had held opponents scoreless in La Cañada’s 12-game playoff winning streak, yielding only nine hits over 16 2/3 innings.
Likewise, Phillips entered the game against Placentia on a roll himself, holding opponents to only one earned run over 10 innings during the postseason.
“I thought if Nicholas could hold Placentia’s bats in check early, we would gain an advantage late because unlike Placentia, who had to burn their number two and three pitchers to get to the championship game, we had our pitching lined up,” Regan said. “We had Phillips completely rested and available to come in and close the game, and Caiden Kennedy if we needed him.”
A pitching duel developed as the teams were in a scoreless stalemate through four innings, but Regan said he and coaches Kenny Burns, Keith Piken, Anthony Parrille and Reggie Rivas knew runs would be hard to come by.
“Placentia’s pitcher was throwing gas,” Regan said. “His fastball was hitting 75 mph on the speed gun, and with the mound only 50 feet away, that is bringing it.”
La Cañada hitters worked four walks during the first four innings but left all four runners stranded in scoring position as Placentia’s pitcher did not yield a hit through four frames.
Fortunately for L.C., Pieper matched Placentia’s pitcher by keeping opposing hitters off balance with his slider, surrendering only one hit through four innings with Placentia’s threat quashed in the second when catcher Ethan Wong made a perfect throw to shortstop Trevor Rivas covering second to catch a runner stealing.
In a pivotal fifth inning of a seven-inning game, Phillips led off with a check-swing single that stayed inches inside the chalk as it rolled up the third base line for La Cañada’s first hit of the game. Chase Regan laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Phillips to second and then — with two outs and a 2-2 count — Rivas singled to right, pushing across Phillips for the game’s first run.
“Getting that initial run felt like we scored five, and what made it better is that we knew Placentia’s pitcher was nearing his pitch limit,” said Regan.
Placentia fought back in the bottom of the fifth with its leadoff hitter singling to right, followed by a sacrifice bunt and a walk. Each runner stole a base, and Placentia was threatening to score with runners on second and third and only one out.
Regan decided it was time to bring in Phillips to relieve Pieper, and the young pitcher rose to the occasion. Phillips got the next hitter to fly out to Kennedy in shallow right field, and the runner could not score on a tag because the ball wasn’t hit deep enough.
With runners still on second and third and two outs, Placentia’s next hitter hit a hard line drive to right field; just as Placentia’s fans stood to cheer what appeared certain to plate the game-tying and go-ahead runs, Kennedy delivered the defensive play of the game as he fielded the ball chest high on one bounce and threw a dart to first baseman Joe Bell to get the hitter before he could reach first base.
“The defensive play of the game — heck, the play of the year, as far as I am concerned.” Regan said.
La Cañada went to the top of the sixth inning nursing a 1-0 lead, but Placentia’s starter reached his pitch limit of 85 pitches. L.C. took advantage and proceeded to blow the game open, scoring nine runs off Placentia’s relievers.
Wong started the offensive barrage with a double to deep right field. A Taylor Parrille walk preceded a botched pick-off attempt by Placentia to plate Wong for the game’s second run. Cole Richards followed with a clutch single to left and with the bases loaded and no outs, Chase Regan laid down a bunt that extended La Cañada’s lead to four runs.
Following a steal of home to make the game 5-0, Rivas belted a double to deep right field that drove in two more runs. As La Cañada batted around in the inning, Wong came to the plate again and hit another double, this time to left center field and landing on the warning track some 240 feet from home plate, giving his team a comfortable nine-run advantage.
One additional defensive error by Placentia and La Cañada ended its half of the sixth inning with a commanding 10-0 lead. L.C. players knew as they took the field in the bottom of the sixth that they were only three outs away from advancing to the World Series because of the mercy rule, which ends the game when a team has a 10-run advantage at the end of a full inning in the latter part of the game.
Placentia’s lead-off batter hit a hard ground ball to first baseman Ross Piken, who smothered it and crawled to first base with the ball in his outstretched hand to get the runner by a step. Phillips then tallied two strikeouts to end the game, sending the fans and his teammates into a frenzy.
“I am so proud of these boys,” Regan said. “All of our boys came up big, from Scotty Burns’ critical hit and great plays at third during the Tecolote game to Ross Piken’s stellar play at first base to the play of Joe Bell, Taylor Parrille, Trevor Rivas and Milo Lin — who all came up clutch at the plate and on the mound during the Pony playoffs to get us here. A total team effort.”
La Cañada’s crowd also seemingly played a role in victory, as cheerleaders Alyssa Parrille, Allison Kennedy, Lexi Piken, Sarah Bell, Addie Richards, Olivia Pieper and Brennan Buono led cheers throughout the game.
“You know who else played a pivotal role? ‘M.W.’ is on our jersey sleeves for a reason — a great friend lost too early, and we know he has been with us every step of the way. This one first and foremost is for Mike and the entire Wong family,” Regan said.
The team also dedicates the remarkable postseason run to the entire La Cañada Baseball Softball Association, which endured months of uncertainty as to whether a season would even happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regan and his coaches said they would not be here without the leadership of LCBSA President Joe Radabaugh, Vice President of Baseball Mark Sanders, Vice President of Softball Dean Rocco, Tournament Team Director Jeffrey Klein, along with countless other volunteers, who navigated COVID-19 protocols to enable league officials and players to complete an entire season, as well as select tournament teams.
Team officials were also thankful of the La Cañada Flintridge community for their support and dedication to making the league what it is today.
“The volunteer coaches who have developed the baseball skills of these boys over the years, as well as LCBSA past presidents Todd Reynolds and George Chumo, past vice presidents of baseball Tom Higa and Chris Park, and too many others to mention by name — this is for you too,” Regan said. “This is a homegrown team, a team of boys who attend our local elementary schools, who started playing together at the age of 5 in Shetland and who continue to play on our local fields. These boys love baseball and getting to the World Series did not happen by accident. Most of these boys have played over 300 baseball games during the past five years and spent countless hours practicing together, taking hitting and pitching lessons. Our team is the first in La Cañada to reach a World Series, but with the continuing support of our community and dedicated volunteers, I am confident it will not be the last. Now let’s go win it!”