AMERICAN CANYON — Coming off a 14-0 mercy-rule loss in their Little League District 53 Tournament opener on Saturday, the St. Helena Majors All-Stars took some extra batting practice in the days leading up to their elimination game against Vallejo American.
That extra practice certainly helped Tuesday night, but it was their pitching that ultimately helped them stay alive for at least one more game.
Behind the efforts of pitchers Coby Bramham, Spencer Nelson and Thomas Heil, St. Helena shut out Vallejo American 3-0 at the American Canyon Little League complex to set up a Fourth of July showdown with Benicia on Thursday.
St. Helena’s three pitchers combined to yield just two hits, while striking out 12 and walking just two.
Bramham started and pitched the first 2 2/3 innings, striking out six on two walks and a hit. Nelson went the next three innings, striking out five and allowing just one hit, before Heil got the last out of the game on a strikeout in the top of the sixth.
“We have some good pitching and today they just threw hardballs, that’s really all it was,” said St. Helena manager Joe Herdell. “I think Spencer broke off the first curveball of the day to get that guy in the sixth inning. Just good, all-around team baseball.”
Such was not the case over the weekend in their mercy-rule loss to Napa National, which held St. Helena to one hit.
But Herdell managed to get some of his team’s confidence back with some extra hitting practice in the days between games, which he said was evident from the first pitch.
“We did some batting practice between our first outing and that really helped,” Herdell said. “We felt good about today, going into the game, and then we showed it on the field. So I’m proud of the guys.”
It didn’t take long for St. Helena’s players to show that renewed confidence on the field Tuesday.
They took the lead in the bottom half of the second inning on a two-out single from Heil that scored Bramham and Henry Ray. But their 2-0 lead was quickly in jeopardy in the top of the third, as Vallejo American loaded the bases with just one out.
The away team nearly brought in its first run of the game on a ball that got by Ray behind the plate. But he recovered quickly, found the ball and fed it to Bramham, who was covering home to tag out the runner trying to score from third.
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St. Helena wasn’t out of trouble yet, however. Bramham’s second walk of the game loaded the bases, prompting Herdell to make a pitching change. He brought in the hard-throwing Nelson, who escaped the high-pressure situation with a strikeout of Vallejo American’s No. 3 hitter to keep the visitors off the scoreboard.
“That was huge,” Herdell said of the play at the plate. “Getting the guy, keeping them scoreless, that really kept the momentum in our favor.”
St. Helena showed more of its defensive prowess at the start of the fourth inning, when a high-bouncing ground ball headed toward third basemen Caiden Taylor. He fielded it cleanly, turned, and fired across the diamond in time to get the runner breaking to first.
His teammates around the infield let the out a cheer and Nelson went on to set down Vallejo American quietly in the frame.
Nelson did the same in fifth inning and his team gave him a bit more breathing room in the bottom of the inning, extending its lead to 3-0 when Heil stole home on a passed ball.
Nelson then got two outs in the sixth before a Vallejo American batter smashed a ball that one-hopped into the wall in left field. The runner held at first but Herdell made another pitching change, bringing in Heil to get the last out of the game.
He needed only five pitches to do so, recording a strikeout before being mobbed by teammates as he walked off the field.
Offensively, Heil also led the way with 2-for-3, two-RBI performance. Bramham and Ray were also each 1 for 2 with a run scored.
Peter Oliver also had hit for St. Helena, which faces Benicia at noon on Thursday.
More baseball on the Fourth of July? Bring it on, says Herdell.
“We love it,” Herdell said. “Let’s keep playing, win or go home.”