BASEBALL: San Benito 16-18s fall to Watsonville, but advance to regionals

San Benito catcher Jacob Tonascia dives for a pop-up in foul territory during Tuesday's championship game against the Watsonville Aggies.

Although the San Benito Babe Ruth 16- to 18-year-old All-Stars
will advance to the Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament next
week, it won’t be with any sort of title next to their name. The
good news came on Monday night. After Cody Gessell’s two-run double
in the home half of the sixth lifted San Benito to a
come-from-behind 4-3 victory against Hanford in the elimination
bracket semifinals, a win that advanced the team to the title game
against Watsonville on Tuesday night, the local All-Stars
discovered that the top two teams from the tournament would advance
to regionals
— no matter the outcome against Watsonville in the championship.
That was the good news. The more difficult pill to swallow was on
Tuesday.
HOLLISTER

It was a case of good-and-bad news for the San Benito Babe Ruth 16- to 18-year-old All-Stars this week.

On Monday, after Cody Gessell’s two-run double in the home half of the sixth lifted San Benito to a come-from-behind 4-3 victory against Hanford in the elimination bracket semifinals, a win that advanced the team to the title game against Watsonville the following night, the local All-Stars discovered that the top two teams from the tournament would advance to regionals — no matter the outcome against Watsonville in the championship.

That was the good news. The more difficult pill to swallow was on Tuesday, though.

Follow Free Lance Sports on Twitter.

Leading 2-0 into the bottom of the fifth inning, San Benito surrendered the lead and essentially the championship when Watsonville sent 13 batters to the plate, capitalized on five errors in the field and scored nine straight runs en route to a 9-2 victory at Hollister’s Veterans Memorial Park.

San Benito will still advance to regionals, slated to begin July 21 in Modesto, but not with the title as Central California state champions.

And one inning may have been the difference.

“I think it’s not too difficult because the boys know now they can hang with this team,” San Benito manager Andrew Barragan said afterward. “We feel really comfortable going into this [southwest] regional. We can play with any team. We play our ball and we can hang with anyone.”

The championship game was delayed more than an hour Tuesday night when Tracy, which lost to Watsonville to open the tournament, launched an inquiry into the eligibility of one Aggies player whom they believed was from out of state, according to San Benito Babe Ruth President Angel Rueda. The challenge led to Watsonville forfeiting the first game of the championship round against San Benito, while three Watsonville players were deemed ineligible for the second game.

San Benito was unable to take advantage of the situation, however.

Craig Slibsager and Gessell were 2-for-4 Tuesday night, while Marcus Sabatte and Matt Naval each added an RBI double in the go-ahead second inning for San Benito, which held the narrow lead up until the fifth frame.

Naval, who also started on the mound for the locals, tossed four complete innings and into the fifth as well, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out three and walking two.

“This was Matt Naval. Unbelievable,” Barragan said of his starting pitcher.

“But I think the kids really got sucked into the dugout more than anything, started developing rabbit ears and they lost their composure,” the manager added. “No doubt, we outplayed that team … but when we’re not playing fundamental baseball, they start being loud in the dugout, which is fine, but we have to stay composed and we can’t get sucked into that.”

Although pitching and defense had been San Benito’s bread and butter during its three victories prior to Tuesday night’s championship, the latter imploded during the game-altering fifth inning.

After Miguel Corral blasted an RBI double to center field that one-hopped the wall and its 358-foot sign above, scoring Angel Sanchez from first base and cutting the deficit in half, the San Benito defense followed with four errors that led to eight additional runs — all unearned.

Four pitchers saw action in the extended inning, including Naval, Skyler Shaw-Fuss (0.0IP, 1H, 4R, 0ER), Gessell (.1IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 1K, 1BB) and Tyler Pina (1.2IP, 0H, 3R, 0ER, 3K, 1BB).

“It just fell apart. It was just a mental thing,” said Gessell, who along with teammates Kevin Salvas, Sabatte and Slibsager, was named to the all-tournament team following the game.

“This one doesn’t seem too hard because we’re on to regionals anyway,” Gessell added. “But if it was for regionals, this would be a lot harder.

“We’ll be good in regionals, and we did good today. Just take away that one inning.”

Watsonville was limited to just five hits in the game, compared to nine for San Benito, but managed to take advantage of the situation in the fifth inning. San Benito, meanwhile, had difficulty finding the timely hit, as it stranded 12 runners on base, eight of whom were in scoring position.

“Knowing that we were going to the [southwest] regional, I didn’t want to take anything away from this game today. But we wanted to see how we’d match up against this team because, again, they were successful and they went to the World Series last year,” Barragan said of Watsonville. “We wanted to see how we’d match up, and we kind of used this game as more of a measuring stick to see where we’re at. And we’re fine.”

It was the second time San Benito and Watsonville squared off in the Central California State Tournament. The previous game, a 12-2 win for Watsonville, pushed the locals to the elimination bracket, where they were forced to defeat Hanford a second time on Monday night.

San Benito defeated Hanford 3-2 in the tournament opener last week, then topped San Luis Obispo 9-0 in the quarterfinals. They will now see action in the Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament next week in Modesto.

“The only negative I can see on this team is that we have to learn to keep our composure a little bit better,” Barragan said. “We have to tune them out, tune the opponent out, and just stay within ourselves and play our game like they know how.”

SAN BENITO — 020 000 0 — 2 9 6

WATSONVILLE — 000 090 X — 9 5 2

WP: M. Hamby

LP: S. Shaw-Fuss

Leave your comments