By Adam Burns
LA VISTA, Neb. -- Max Richard couldn’t quite get a feel for his slider on Saturday morning. His curveball? An entirely different story.
“My curveball was really on today,” he said. “It helped me out a lot.”
He could say that again.
Mix in a fastball that was commanded well throughout, Richard tossed five three-hit innings and teammate Ryder Vargas tossed the final two to elevate the 14u Gorillas Baseball to a 4-2 victory over the Spokane Expos Saturday morning at the La Vista Sports Complex. They advanced to 4-0 on the weekend and will play at 11:15 a.m. Sunday in the DI semifinals against Gold Baseball 2025, 7-4 winners against Osseo Maple Grove Storm.
Richard dazzled with four strikeouts and just one walk surrendered on 69 pitches, while Vargas notched the save with one strikeout, one run allowed on a single hit. Richard and Vargas’ success on the mound wasn’t anything new for the Gorillas in recent days. They’ve allowed only just four total runs in their SlumpBuster tourney debut.
“We’ve pitched really well,” Gorillas coach Brian Ferrick said. “We’ve only given up a few runs all week and we had some key hits in that game which was fun to see. It was great. A full team effort.”
Richard, a righty, also credited the entire team.
“It was great to have defensive help out there,” he said.
Playing as one of the top seeds in bracket play, the Gorillas struck first when Vargas drove in Max Ferrick -- who had a double and two hits -- via a groundout to shortstop in the top of the first. Vargas reached on a one-out double.
The Expos joined the Gorillas in the score column in the third. Marco Longo led off the frame with a double down the left field line and came around to score on a throwing error that came off the bat of Logan Spradling.
The Gorillas plated two runs in the fifth. Connor Vandertuig and Jax Flynn provided the spark at the plate. Vandertuig roped a double to left to give his squad a 2-1 lead, and Flynn followed with an RBI single to right to put a bow on a 10-pitch at-bat.
The Gorillas added to their lead in the seventh. This time, Richard helped himself with a run-scoring single to left field. Vargas’ one run allowed came off the bat of Harper Dissmore, who supplied a sacrifice fly to drive in Kirkwood, who tripled to deep right.
Delivering a solid pitching outing himself, Kirkwood, the Expos’ right-handed starter, threw a complete game. He allowed four runs on seven hits and struck out four batters.
“I’m really proud of him,” Expos coach Ricco Longo said. “I’ve never coached anybody that has been able to pitch the way he did and to go as deep as he did and stay competitive as long as he did.”
Unfortunately for the Washington-based squad, the loss meant the end of the road in the Omaha area.
“It’s our second time here. The people here are great,” Longo said. “We love Triple Crown. I couldn’t have been more privileged to coach that set of boys. It was a great weekend.”
But for the Gorillas, once again it was about the pitching on Saturday.
“He was great,” coach Ferrick said of Richard, the Gorillas’ starter. “He’s one of our best pitchers and when he’s pounding the zone and we’re playing defense like that, we just don’t give up a lot of runs.
“He’s got great stuff and keeps hitters off balance. He was tough to hit.”
The Gorillas hope to continue their streak of solid pitching and good defense on Championship Sunday.
“We have to throw a lot of strikes, play good defense, and clutch hitting,” Ferrick said.
“Hopefully, we can win some more tomorrow,” Richard said.