The late morning air in Vancouver, Washington felt heavy on the skin, as the pressure for Pleasanton’s 14 year-olds to advance in the Western Regional came down to one game against Ewa Beach, Hawaii. The sting of Friday’s fiasco against Idaho was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and no one was quite sure how the team would respond to their first adversity of the summer.
Ptown Blue would bat first, and it was obvious from the start that this game would be different that the previous day’s contest. An error, two hit batsmen, and singles by Jimmy Kaufman and Quinn Brinnon gave Pleasanton a quick 2-0 lead and knocked their starting pitcher out of the game. With Mitch Benson on the hill, the team felt confidence about their chances. A quick bottom of the first proved to the young Ptowners that they could play with the white-uniformed team from Ewa Beach.
Despite the incessant tribal chants from the kids and parents from Hawaii, Pleasanton kept the pressure on in the second inning, with the big blow being a 2-run rocket to left-center that left Mitch Benson standing on third base, and the dugout of blue clad boys whooping and smiling at their early success. Nate Lau followed with a sharp single to center, and suddenly the boys were up 5-0.
No one expected the Hawaii team to fold their beach towels and head home from the beach early, particularly their boisterous parents and fans. They came back to score four in the bottom of the second, and another in the third, and the game was tied after three complete innings. The teams traded single runs in the fourth, and the game took on the feel of a heavy weight title fight, except the only swings were coming from these still-developing 14 year old boys (with a couple extra swings thrown in by the Hawaii team).
Breakthrough came in the sixth inning for the powder blue wearing Ptowners. The rally started with lead-off hitter Max Lander lining a ball back through the pitcher and into centerfield for a base hit. Justin Lavell’s two-strike, chopping single to right just over the glove of Hawaii’s beamoth first baseman set up Trevor Wallace’s single to plate Lander and give the team the lead. An intentional walk to Mitch Benson with runners on first and second, a tactic usually reserved for Barry Bonds, loaded the bases for Nate Lau. This brought the Hawaii infielders in tight, their spikes firmly set on green grass of the Columbia River infield. Nate Lau made them pay, as he got a ball through the infield plating another run. Another hit batsman (Hawaii plunked four Ptown players on Saturday), would push across another, and the score stood at 9-6, with Pleasanton needing six more outs for the win.
The final outs of a baseball game can often be difficult to find, as players find themselves griping the ball a little tighter, and accumulating a bit more sweat in their finger tips. Special players can calm those nerves, and preserve through difficult and harrowing times. Two such players stepped up for Ptown on Saturday, with Trevor Wallace coming in for relief of Mitch Benson, and defensive leader Cal O’Loughlin deftly scooping up balls at shortstop. In the end, Wallace allowed only one base runner, and O’Loughlin accounted for five of the last six outs, including the turn of an amazing 4-6-3 double play to end the game and end the chorus of chants from the highly competitive Hawaii team.
There’s no doubt that we will likely face this Hawaii team again, as they are talented and spirited. All those in attendance on Saturday were exhausted, drained, and thoroughly entertained by the young men on the field. People often throw out terms like “The best I’ve ever seen,” so I’ll avoid such hyperbole, but I know that the trek to Vancouver, Washington to watch 14-year old boys play baseball and represent Pleasanton was all made worth it by the way our team carried themselves on Saturday. Congrats to the players and coaches, and thank you for making the summer of 2014 so memorable for all that are involved and rooting for you, for playing the game the right way, and for reminding us all how to have fun while succeeding at the highest level of competition.