by Kyle Koso
While physical ability and skills have a lot to do with success in baseball, sometimes it's the mysterious side of the sport that matters most.
For the GBC Ventura County (CA) 13u squad, the big challenge Saturday had to do with exhibiting patience and faith as Division 1 championship bracket play continued at the Omaha SlumpBuster. Falling behind early, making mistakes and going almost four innings without scoring might have soured spirits, but GBC responded over time and topped the Ironmen (MO), 7-2, at La Vista Sports Park.
GBC will face JBA Clutch Navy in the semifinals Sunday, with the title game set for 1:30 p.m.
Two errors in the top of the first allowed the Ironmen to score two runs, and then their pitcher, Leonard Casey, started slicing through the GBC batting order with his fast and deceptive left-hand deliveries. The big break for GBC came with two outs in the fourth, when Leo Baez drilled a two-run double to tie the contest.
In the bottom of the fifth, Landon Holmes singled on an 0-2 pitch with two outs; after Matt Ramirez walked, Bryce Rainer jumped on the first pitch he saw and smoked a home run over the centerfield fence to make it 5-2. Baez drove in another run in the sixth, by then just padding for a GBC squad that had looked in trouble earlier.
"It got to be time where we thought about hitting line drives. Everyone was thinking home run," said Rainer, a lefty. "We changed the game plan and started to hit line drives, and that benefitted us, better than those first three innings. I was just trying to get on base (before the home run); we had guys on base."
"This is a team that doesn't (fall behind) too much, so they have to work on those types of situations," said GBC head coach Kevin Johnson, whose team won its three pool play games by a margin if 59-1. "I was proud of how they bounced back, because we made a lot of mistakes in that inning. Anytime you can get out of 0-2 and get a knock, you're doing something right, and Baez had a great game, two clutch hits in two clutch situations."
In all of this, GBC starter Nolan Johnson quietly pitched a terrific game, in the first action he had seen during the tournament. He ended up throwing a seven-inning complete game, allowing two hits and three walks alongside seven strikeouts. Casey struck out eight batters.
Normally a reliever, Nolan Johnson said he tried to remain balanced and persistent while his teammates slowly turned around the momentum of the contest.
"I'm trying to keep the same rhythm, dominate with strikes, and hopefully do that while the defense picks it up. I scored on (Baez's first double), and that felt amazing because I knew my team would back me up," said Nolan Johnson, who also had two hits. "I had to just stay with my game and not worry about what (Casey) was doing.
"Rainer is our best player; that home run was nice. We needed some runs, and that's how we did it."
The other 13u D1 semifinal features the Utah Owlz and another Ventura County team, the VC Baseball Academy.