The Hollister American and National 11/12-year-old All Star teams proved to be the best in the District 9 Tournament. Ultimately, American won the winner-take-all game, 4-2, and advanced to the Section 5 Tournament, where it lost an elimination game to Gilroy on Monday. Despite the loss, nothing can take away from Hollister’s riveting duel with Hollister National in district play.
“I had my ace (Noah Dewey) in the hole, our best guy on the mound, and he did what he was supposed to do,” American manager Mike Pieracci said, referring to Dewey’s 84-pitch complete-game in leading the team to the two-run victory over National in the winner-take-all contest on July 8. “Noah throws the ball hard and has a great curveball.”
Said National manager Matt Lewis: “Noah Dewey pitched a great game in the championship and unfortunately our bats weren’t working that day. He kept us off-balanced and there was nothing really we could do about it.”
The American roster includes Jacob Antopia, Breyon Chavez, Jonathan Corlis, Jacob Cruz, Dewey, Agustin Gomez, Alex Hernandez, Celso Lopez, Andrew Pasillas, Justin Pieracci, Adrian Ruiz, Diego Santos and Zach Watt. The National roster includes Arnulfo Abonce, Jacob Chapa, Jesus Diaz Jr., Austin Hutchison, William Lewis, Jaden Mingus, Reagan Rivera, Ezra Robinson, Gabriel Torres, Daymien Valencia, Chase Waller, Brayden Watkins and Stephan Yuste.c
American went 5-1 in the District 9 Tournament, with the most pivotal game—besides the winner-take-all title matchup, of course—being the winners’ bracket quarterfinal in which it edged National 7-6. That forced National to the bottom bracket, where it had to win a couple of games to earn a rematch with American.
One of those was a 15-0 rout of Hartnell, which vaulted National into the championship round. Since American was the tourney’s lone undefeated team, it needed to be beaten twice to lose the championship. National won the first game 7-2 before American prevailed in the winner-take-all contest.
In three games between the squads, National scored 15 runs and American 13, a reflection of just how evenly matched the teams were.
“(In eight games) we ended up scoring 85 runs and only gave up 17,” Lewis said. “(The first game against American) there were five plays that if any one of them went differently, it’s a whole different ballgame. They made less errors than us and hit the crap out of the ball like they usually do.”
In the winner-take-all game, things were scoreless entering the third inning before American took control. Antopia, the No. 9 hitter, fouled off several pitches before hitting a solo home run to score the first run of the contest.
“He turned on a fastball and got it out after having two strikes on him,” Pieracci said.
Four batters later, cleanup hitter Watts hit a two-run homer to give American a 3-0 lead it would never relinquish. American entered the contest having hit just two home runs in the tournament, with Dewey and Santos being the others. Instead of the long ball, American relied on great pitching, sound defense, timely hitting and a healthy dose of extra-base hits en route to winning the championship.
Most of the kids who were on last year’s 11-year-old team that won district aged up to form the 12s squad, and they played better than ever.
“They’re better kids than ball players, and they’re great ball players,” Pieracci said. “We’ve had the same kids since they were 9 year sold, and they lost in the championship to National as 9- and 10-year-olds and won it as 11- and 12-year-olds. Just a great group of kids. They’re unselfish, move the line and do their jobs.”
Pieracci pointed to the team’s 6-2 win over Aptos in a Section 5 Tournament elimination game Sunday as proof.
“My four subs won the game for us,” he said.
With the game tied at 2-2, Lopez and Cruz got on base before Corlis moved them over. Justin Pieracci, the manager’s son, followed with a two-run double to put American ahead for good. Pieracci raved about shortstop Chavez, who can do it all.
“He’s probably the best shortstop in Northern California,” Mike Pieracci said. “He is just phenomenal and a coach’s dream. I told him before the season started that it takes 13 guys like him to make it to Williamsport (site of the Little League World Series). His work ethic and ability is phenomenal, and he’s a great pitcher and hitter as well.”
In addition to Dewey and Chavez, American received excellent pitching from frontline starters Pasillas and Santos. Centerfielder Ruiz also produced plenty of terrific plays defensively.
“Adrian was robbing hitters of base hits left and right,” Pieracci said.
National also received standout performances, starting with a powerful three-man starting rotation in pitchers Mingus, Robinson and Abonce.
“Arnuflo was our flamethrower, and Jaden throws almost as hard,” Lewis said. “Ezra was more crafty and had more pitches (in his arsenal).”
The National manager also noted that Hutchison and Lewis also pitched well. National received strong offensive output from several players, including Watkins, Rivera, Mingus and Robinson. Watkins and Diaz Jr. muscled up to hit two home runs each in district play, and Mingus, Abonce and Robinson all hit one homer apiece.
Valencia also produced in clutch situations, coming through when the team either needed him to get on base, produce a hit or move a runner over. Even though National fell just short, it played superbly and had a strong tourney run.
“Playing Hollister American three times and going through it, I hate it at the time,” Lewis said. “My blood pressure goes through the roof. But looking back now, it should be Hollister and Hollister in the championship—that’s the way it should be.”