HANFORD — Orcutt Babe Ruth’s 14-year-old All-Star team punched its ticket to Arizona.
Orcutt not only beat the stifling heat — 102 degrees at game time — they also swept through the competition undefeated at the Central California Babe Ruth 14-year-old Tournament, defeating Lodi 10-3 in Tuesday night’s championship game at John F. Kennedy Junior High in Hanford.
“We told the boys that if they took care of business, if they just went out and did their jobs, then we wouldn’t need to play two games in this heat,”said Orcutt manager James Steels during a telephone interview after the game. “They were motivated to win anyway but getting out of this heat was an added incentive.”
The tournament was double elimination. Orcutt went undefeated to earn its spot in the finals.
Lodi suffered one loss along the way.
Tuesday night';s game was a re-match against the team Orcutt defeated in the final game in the winner’s bracket, a game Orcutt won 6-3.
“That first game was a test that the boys really needed. They really had to battle, had to play great offense and defense to win that game. We knew they had a talented team and we couldn’t take anything for granted,” said Steels. “They had all their pitchers available and we knew they were good. If a couple breaks went their way, it could have been a different story.”
But the story played out in Orcutt’s favor.
After a scoreless first inning, Orcutt put two runs on the board in the second.
Isaiah Navarro walked and moved to second on Connor Adams’ single.
Navarro scored on a ground out and then Nate Cantor’s single plated Adams.
Lodi got one run back in the bottom of the first.
That was as close as they would get.
Orcutt scored four runs in the third and three more in the fourth to go up 9-1 to break the game open.
Lodi scored its final two runs in the fifth inning.
Orcutt closed out the scoring with a single run in the seventh.
“In the third inning, we had two walks and then bunted them over. Quigley Espinola was hit by a pitch to load the bases, then Isaiah had a single that keyed our four-run outburst,” said Steels.
“We came right back and scored three times in the fourth,” said Steels. “Dean Samuel led off with a single, Caleb Dulay and Ryan Delgado walked and Quigley brought them all home with a three-run triple.”
Navarro was Orcutt’s starting pitcher, giving up one run while getting four strikeouts, before tiring in the heat and being lifted in the middle of the fourth inning.
Dulay then came on and closed out the seven inning game, getting three strikeouts along the way.
“We got seven strikeouts. Our pitchers kept them off balance the whole game,” said Steels. “But that means we got 14 outs on balls that were hit and our defense was outstanding. The boys made several great plays. We turned one double play and almost turned two. Our boys were at the right place at the right time.”
Espinola was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“Quigley had a home run, a triple and a whole bunch of RBIs. He also played his usual great defense in center field. He certainly deserved the MVP.”
Dulay, Delgado and Colby Thayer made the All-Tournament team.
“The MVP and All-Tournament team are picked by the Babe Ruth officials and Caleb, Ryan and Colby all earned their spots playing a great tournament,” said Steels. “We don’t get a say in it but if I did get a vote, I would have added Isaiah — he pitched two great games.”
After the final out, the players dumped the traditional water bucket on Steels.
“I’m soaking wet but we’re heading home now,” said Steels. “This was a great tournament, a great win by an awesome group of young men. It will be good to get out of this heat. It will be good to get back home.”
But the team will soon have to prepare for an even longer road trip back into the same kind of extreme heat.
The championship earned Orcutt a berth in the Regionals which begin July 24 in Surprise, Ariz. The team could use some assistance in funding the trip. If you would like to help or get more information, call or text Steels at (805) 878-1518.