YOUNTVILLE – It is quickly becoming apparent that the Napa Valley Baseball Club’s 17-and-under team is no underdog in the American Legion State Tournament.
In the tournament only because they are the hosts, they powered past the Eureka Eagles, 7-2, Friday afternoon at Borman Field to improve to 2-0 in the tournament, and are now two wins away from a state title.
Similar to Thursdays 9-2 victory over the favored Chico Suns, it was clear from the first inning that Napa was all locked in.
“It feels really good to prove people wrong,” Max Phipps said after starting on the mound and getting the win. “I think we all knew we had this level within ourselves. To see us producing the results that we should be feels great.”
Napa broke the scoreless tie in the top of the first inning.
Colton Maher led off with the first of his three walks. Cole Ridling followed with a single to the right side of the infield, and Phipps loaded the bases with a perfectly executed bunt single. Luke Leachman battled with Eureka starting pitcher Kalebh Hill before poking an RBI single into right field to score Maher.
The poor start continued for Hill, as Drew Hatfield put down a sacrifice bunt to push across Ridling.
“We have been playing with a chip on our shoulder this tournament,” Phipps said, “especially after getting knocked out of the last tournament earlier than we expected. We came into this one ready to go and our fired up.”
With a 2-0 lead, Phipps showed the depth of the Napa pitching staff. Normally a right fielder, he breezed through the hard-hitting Eureka lineup. The tournament has a pitch limit, as well as not allowing pitchers to throw on three straight days, so Phipps was pulled after allowing only one base runner through the first seven batters.
The Vintage High junior gave up zero earned runs on two hits while striking out a batter with a fast-moving curveball.
“I think that pitching and pitching depth is going to be the key going forward,” Maher said. “I think that is going to be the deciding point going forward for the next couple of days.”
Napa continued to put the pressure on Eureka in the top of the second inning.
Omar Gonzalez and Maher drew back-to-back walks, and Ridling loaded the bases when an off-speed pitch got away from Hill. The Eagles got Phipps to fly out to the shortstop, but Leachman followed with an impressive at-bat.
Leachman stretched out the battle to a full count. With two outs, the cleanup hitter smashed a pitch into the right center field gap, clearing the bases and picking up his fourth RBI of the game.
“We have just been clicking right now,” Phipps said. “All of our players have just been focusing much more on the game and not the off field distractions.”
The “underdogs” kept marching on in the top of the third inning, as Andrew Wheeler knocked a single into left field and just missed a home run on a foul ball. Harrison Kohagura hit a single to almost the same location as Wheeler, putting two runners on with zero outs. Napa advanced the runners after Troy Ghisletta grounded out with a hard-struck ball to the right side of the infield.
Wheeler made it 6-0 by scoring on a wild pitch and the local squad picked up its biggest lead of the afternoon when Kohagura scored on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Gonzalez.
“We have a lot of talent on this team, but sometimes we underachieve,” Zack Daniels said. “If everyone plays to their best potential, we are an unstoppable team.”
Daniels came in for Phipps to start the bottom of the fourth inning, and the Napa defense quickly turned a double play to kill any Eagles momentum.
“Honestly we have to keep doing what we are doing and play our own game,” Phipps said. “We can’t focus to much on the other team have to keep the focus on us.”
Brady Monson took over for Hill on the mound for Eureka, and the small hurler struck out the first two batters he faced in the fifth inning.
Eureka picked up its only two runs of the game in the bottom of the fifth, as Hill knocked a single to right field. The stocky yet surprisingly fast leader of the Eagles took advantage of some throwing errors to score. But that would be the only frame of trouble for Napa all afternoon.
“We have just been clicking right now.” Phipps said, “All of our players have just been focusing much more on the game and not the off field distractions.”
Napa will now take on the favorites of the whole tournament, defending state champion San Juan Capistrano, in the winner bracket final on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The winner will move on to Sunday’s championship game, with two chances to win the state title. The Napa-Capistrano loser will play again at 3 p.m. Saturday against the winner of the morning’s Pomona-Eureka contest.
“I think we are ready to go and get them,” Maher said of San Juan Capistrano. “We have good mojo going right now and we have the momentum on our side after these past two games. We are ready for San Juan and we are ready to go kick some butt.”
San Juan Capistrano defeated Davis and Chico on its way to the winners bracket final. The squad from Southern California reportedly is sporting a full lineup of projected Division I baseball players, according to Napa head coach Matt Leachman, and will be a true test for the underdogs.
“Saturday’s game is going to be really exciting,” Maher said. “It has two teams that can be really fun if they live up to their full potential. Hopefully we both can reach our full potential and the better team wins out.”