After a first round bye on Saturday, the Del Norte 10-12 Baseball All Stars were rearing to go for their first game of the Oregon District 8 Tournament on Sunday.
Del Norte’s pitchers were downright dominante against Grants Pass National, while its offense gradually pulled away for a 10-0 win by the mercy rule in four-innings.
Del Norte head coach Cris Rice said he thought his squad put itself in position to win the game even before the first pitch was thrown.
“What stood out to me was how the kids got to the field at 9:30 a.m. under extream focus,” Rice said. “When we took batting practice I was telling them that you can win a game before you even start and I think we hit 14 home runs in batting practice and every kid hit the snot out of the ball. They all had razor sharp focus, effort and intensity.”
That carried over into the quarterfinal matchup with Del Norte pitchers Cole Blackburn and Brody Mattz mowing down Nationals batters all game long. Meanwhile, Del Norte batters were able to push runs across the plate in every single inning.
Blackburn made the start for the Warriors and struck out six of the nine batters he faced while pitching two and a third innings and picking up the win. Mattz came in during the third inning and struck out four of the last six Grants Pass hitters to secure the victory.
Though Rice said he has several more pitchers he feels comfortable putting on the mound, Blackburn and Mattz are the team’s aces and they showed why on Sunday.
“I think Cole was a little bit surprised because his off speed stuff is really really good and his most effective pitches, but they were actually hitting them,” Rice said. “His speed isn’t that overpowering, but it was enough that he could just blow the fastball past them with 60-62 mph pitches.
“Then when Brody got up there I think it just intimadated the heck out of the other team. He is hitting 67 miles per hour, snapping the mit and throwing it off the backstop every once in a while. He is a little bit more wild than Cole.”
With Blackburn and Mattz on the top of their game, Del Norte’s defense was rarely challenged.
“That makes a huge difference because it takes all the pressure off of the defense.,” Rice said of the team’s oppresive pitching performance. “That can sometimes make a defense lazy, but we have instilled moving on every pitch, covering everything, and our outfielders were sprinting in to back up plays.”
Offensively, Del Norte was steady at the plate. The Warriors picked up three runs in the first inning, four runs in the second inning, and three more in the third inning before the game ended in the middle of the fourth.
Mattz and Blackburn got Del Norte going offensivly with back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the first inning. Raymond Rusgrove then brough both of his teammates in to score with a hard-hit double into the outfield. After Grants Pass tried to catch Blackburn at the plate, Rusgrove was able to take thirdbase and came home to score on an overthrow for an early 3-0 lead.
Del Norte picked up four more runs in the bottom of the second inning thanks to two singles, two doubles, and two walks in the inning for a 7-0 lead, and the Warriors tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the third inning to set up the win by 10-run rule.
“In a short game we did our best to get everybody in, and everyone impressed me today whether it was the top kid or a kid coming in off the bench,” Rice said. “We just took it to them. We took advantage of their mistakes, we put the ball in play, and we pitched phenominally.”
With the win, Del Norte is one of only two team’s still undefeated in the double-elimination tournament, along with Brookings. Del Norte and Brookings will meet in today’s semifinal game at 5 p.m. at Pyke Field.
In Little League, pitchers are only allowed to pitch 85 pitches in a week. Although both Blackburn and Mattz will both still be availible to pitch against Brookings if need be, Rice said he is hoping to be able to save at least one of his aces to throw in the championship game on Thursday if Del Norte can get there.
“We will definitley have to make some decisions pitching-wise, but we will be willing to exaust one of our aces to get to the championship game,” Rice said.
The winner between Del Norte and Brookings today will advance straight to the championship game on Thursday at Pykes Field starting at 5 p.m. The loser will move down into the other semifinal game, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wendesday, against either Grants Pass American and Grants Pass National.
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .