Petaluma Little Leaguers NorCal champions
The slugging Petaluma Nationals held off a gritty last-inning rally by San Mateo American to capture the 2021 NorCal Little League title with a 4-3 win in Rocklin on Thursday.
First baseman Aiden Jones powered a three-run homer over the center field fence in the fifth inning with Dante Sarno and Gio Castaing on base to provide the margin of victory for the Nationals who went undefeated in the tournament.
It wasn’t that easy for Petaluma this time as the Nationals were locked in a 1-1 tie against a team that battled all the way back from an opening-round defeat. Despite playing six games in the heat at Rocklin, the team from San Mateo managed to set up a pitching duel with its best pitcher, Milo Morelli.
The side-arming Morelli matched the pitching effort of Castaing of the Nationals who took the game into the sixth inning, but walked the leadoff batter. It was the last hitter Castaing faced after exceeding the 85 pitch-count limit.
Petaluma Manager Tony Sarno went to right fielder William Hale again, and two runs eventually crossed the plate before the final out was recorded on a bouncer to third base. Hale got the three outs necessary for his fourth save of the playoffs, but not before a couple of runs crossed the plate and National fans began to squirm.
It was a well-deserved win for Castaing, who struck out 11 batters with a fast ball located mostly at the top of the zone. It was his first appearance on the mound for the Nationals who moved into Rocklin with their top two pitchers sidelined by pitch count numbers.
Battery mate Kal Okamura did a solid effort keeping everything in front of him for the entire game.
Petaluma threatened against the offerings of Morelli in every frame except the top of the second. Center fielder Dom Fontana ripped one over the left field fence in the top of the first to get things started. San Mateo countered with a single run against Castaing, and the game was tied until the big blast by Jones.
It's off to San Bernardino for the Nationals and Manager Sarno could not have been more pleased. He and his coaches had already begun to plan for the team’s trip to the south land and the Regional playoffs which guaranteed at least two more games beginning on Aug 8.
“Our kids played extremely well tonight and we are all excited about going to San Bernardino,” Sarno said as the Petalumans went into celebration mode.
Sarno did give it up for the gutsy effort by the kids from San Mateo. “They battled all the way back from the losers bracket and look at what they did in the final inning tonight. Credit to them.”
Petaluma was not without their streak of recording double plays in the field. Right fielder Hale came sprinting in to grab a line drive in the third inning, and gunned a strike to Jones at first base to trap a runner who had wandered too far away from the bag. It was the fourth twin killing in as many games for the Nationals.