After waiting decades to win its first age 9-10 California District 17 All-Star Tournament last year, Arcadia American Little League wasted no time last week making it two championships in two years.
Mikey Easter capped an incredible tournament with two home runs and five RBIs, Brandon Nguyen knocked in four runs of his own, and Devon Eskridge had four hits and three RBIs as AALL overwhelmed East Altadena, 19-7, in the championship game Wednesday night at Farnsworth Park in Altadena.
The win was AALL’s fifth in the tournament in five games. Arcadia outscored its opponents 76-12 in a dominant display of youth baseball that included not just an explosive offense, but strong defense and some great pitching. AALL’s first three tournament wins were the result of early double-digit leads and shut-out mound efforts.
Against a determined EALL team that gamely fought to the title game through the loser’s bracket with key wins over San Marino and Santa Anita, AALL scored six times in the top of the second inning after two were out to take command. It was enough offense then and there to help Guy Gruppie, Jr. get his second pitching victory in three days, but AALL was hardly done at the plate, scoring three in the fourth inning, twice in the fifth and eight more times in the sixth.
Easter hit a towering fly ball homer to center field with one on on the second, then homered again in the fifth, again with a runner on but this time his drive was so deep to right field,it cleared the fence and the backup fence.
When E. J. Davis induced a ground ball to first baseman Nguyen for the final out, it set off a raucous celebration as AALL successfully defended its 9-10 championship and ran its record to 9-0 at Farnsworth Park over two all-star seasons.
One of the better games in that stretch came Monday night against Santa Anita, where AALL led early, then fell behind and then rallied to win, 11-5, in the winner’s bracket final.
AALL took a 2-0 lead but Santa Anita got one back in the bottom of the first then chased starter Matt McIntire with four in the second and AALL found itself trailing in the tournament for the first time, 5-2. Gruppie singled in a run in the third to get AALL closer but more important, came out of the bullpen to stop Santa Anita’s offense with 2 1/3 clutch scoreless innings.
Before Easter came on to pitch the bottom of the fifth, Nolan Anthony doubled in a run, Jacob Babakhanian singled Anthony in to tie it and then who else but Easter put AALL ahead for good with an RBI ground out.
That set the stage for a spectacular six-out, two-inning save by Easter, separated by a five-run Arcadia sixth inning that included a long two-run homer by Easter and two-run double by Eskridge. The game finally ended at 10:50 pm, just before the local curfew with AALL outhitting SALL, 16-7.
Getting past its first three opponents was considerably easier for AALL. In the opener against Pasadena Central, Arcadia scored 10 runs in the first and made thing easy for McIntire who was brilliant of the mound. He allowed one hit, and struck out six with no walks in earning the victory.
Easter had two hits and four RBI, including a homer, each, Gruppie had four hits and four RBIs, Anthony knocked in three runs, McIntire had two RBI, and Eskridge three hits to pace a 19-hit attack.
In the second round, AALL got off to an even better start with 11 runs in the first inning as Easter tossed a four-inning shutout in beating Sierra Madre, 13-0. Gruppie had three RBI to lead Arcadia, and he, Easter, McIntire, Babakhanian and Lance Wong all knocked in two runs.
AALL’s third straight shutout victim was tournament host Central Altadena, 14-0. McIntire and Davis combined on a four-inning one hitter and Davis helped his own cause with three RBIs, Easter added four and both Easter and Nguyen had three hits. Gruppie had a big two-run triple in AALL’s nine-run third inning.
Easter had an amazing 20 RBIs in the tournament with four homers, Gruppie knocked in 11 with four extra-base hits, McIntire had 10 RBIs, Nguyen had 14 hits total and Eskridge 12 as AALL hit .479 as a team.