Despite an early scare, the Pine River Youth Baseball team claimed the Little League District 4 championship with a 10-7 win against Southwest Colorado Youth Baseball and will move on to the Colorado state tournament in Grand Junction.
The game was played in the "majors" division of Little League for players ages 9-12. It is the division featured in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.
Pine River plays the Academy Little League of Colorado Springs this afternoon. Academy was the 25-5 winner over Arapahoe Little League of Aurora in Monday's District 5 Tournament finale.
In Saturday's District championship at Folsom Field in Durango, Southwest Colorado, representing the Montezuma County area, got on the board in the top of the first when Pine River Youth Baseball pitcher Jackson Queen, having fielded a one-out comebacker to the mound, attempted to start a 1-4-3 double play but threw the ball into center field. That allowed both runners on base to score and the batter to reach second.
Queen, the winning pitcher who threw 4 2/3 innings, quickly recovered, striking out the next two batters to halt the attack. The designated home team then countered with one run in the home half scored by Nicholas Twedt via a double to center by shortstop Caden Wood.
PRYB then tied the game in the bottom of the second, with Queen drawing a leadoff walk and scoring on a one-out grounder to the right side by left fielder Kaison Clifford. Southwest Colorado responded with a go-ahead scratch in the third via a double and one-out sacrifice fly to center.
"They definitely gave us a run for our money," said Pine River head coach Kennie Monger.
The "Dirtbags," however, took the lead for good in the bottom half, and in authoritative fashion. Twedt, who went 2-for-2 with a walk and three runs scored, beat out an infield single to short and then swiped second base. Wood walked, and third baseman Lance Mazur then mashed a three-run homer over Folsom Park's 234-foot sign in center field. Hinting at things still to come, PRYB's at-bat ended with bases loaded.
"It helped get us going," Mazur said of his homer, "but wasn't all of it. It was all of our team.
"He was getting worn out, and we knew his speed really well from earlier games," Mazur said, assessing the Southwest team's pitcher. "Since we'd played two days before, we could go out there and hit him."
Southwest Colorado went quickly and quietly in the top of the fourth, with Queen successfully turning a 1-3 double play and stranding one runner.
"I knew that if we tried hard we could win, so I just had to regroup and throw strikes again," said Queen, who allowed six hits and two earned runs while walking two and striking out seven. "I just went out there, put it in the zone and shut 'em down."
Monger was thrilled with the way his young pitcher held strong after the early runs came across against him.
"Jackson throws hard," Monger said, "and when he's finding the strike zone he's on. And he has a little bit of a side-arm delivery that, along with his speed, challenges a lot of hitters."
Pine River then put the game out of reach in the home half of the fourth.
Twedt led off with a single up the middle, and Wood, who was 3-for-3 with a walk, three runs batted in and two runs scored, followed with a two-run tater to right-center for a 7-3 lead. "It was just a fastball down the middle," Wood said. "I liked it, so I swung."
Mazur, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs, then singled to right, and first baseman Noah Chamblee cranked another two-run homer far over the 233-foot marker in left to give Pine River a 9-3 lead.
"After my first at-bat and my second, I knew I needed one," said Chamblee, who'd struck out swinging his first two plate appearances. "And it was just a fastball inside, and I turned on it."
Monger wasn't surprised one bit by the team's three homers.
"I knew all three were gone off the bat," Monger said of the homers. "No-doubters on those ones. Those kids can hit; we have five in the lineup who've hit home runs this year, so I know that they could. It was fun to watch."
Queen reached on an error by Southwest's third baseman and quickly advanced to third via two wild pitches dealt to center fielder Andy Monger. And, after Andy Monger walked and pinch-hitter Keaton Pickering struck out, Queen scored on a wild pitch dealt to pinch-hitter Braylon Cotts for a 10-3 lead.
Southwest scratched out one run in the top of the fifth via an RBI-groundout to second. Queen was then pulled with two away because of a rising pitch count.
Wood came on in relief and struck out the next hitter to end the inning. The visitors scored three runs on Wood in the sixth inning, but Wood struck out a batter to end the game. Wood pitched 1 1/3 innings and allowed four hits, two earned runs and didn't walk a batter. He struck out three.
"We were ready for what they had," Chamblee said. "We're going to end up the better team every time."
Up next, the Dirtbags' season will continue at the State Championships to be held July 14-18 in Grand Junction.
"I'm excited; we have a team that I think can really do well," Monger stated. "If our pitching stays solid, we definitely have a chance to at least put on a good showing, if not do damage up there."