Aptos Little League All Star team celebrates after winning the District 39 Majors Championship at Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz on July 8 2022. (Raul Ebio -- Special to the Pajaronian)

SANTA CRUZ—Aptos Little League All Star pitcher Dominik Castillo has suffered defeat on three different occasions when it came to the District 39 Championship round.

The 12-year-old ace right-hander wasn’t about to let it happen again as he gave up just two runs while recording eight strikeouts for Aptos in an 8-2 win over Pajaro Valley Little League in the Majors championship on Friday at Harvey West Park.

“It feels good,” Castillo said. “Most of the time we made it to the championship and we always lost. Our team never gave up.” 

With the win, Aptos will play the winner of the District 9 All Star bracket in the Section 5 Majors All Star Tournament at Franich Park in Watsonville on July 14 at 7:45pm.  

Aptos coach Troy Cope said this group has a nice collection of runner-up trophies since they were eight years old. However, this year they didn’t want to add another one.

“We finally did it, so we’re feeling pretty good,” he said. 

Castillo felt some pressure going into what was probably the biggest start of his young pitching career. He managed to pull through with the victory, keeping his team’s season alive.

“I just wanted to do good and stuff for my teammates. Strive us to win and we did that,” he said.

Fellow teammate Ethan Kaemmerling had a clutch 2-run double that gave Aptos its first lead of the game. They never looked back after that.

“It means a lot because I’ve been trying a lot and grinding for it,” he said about winning the D-39 title.

Kaemmerling praised Castillo for doing a phenomenal job on the mound and for the defense coming through to back him up.

“I was expecting [to win] this season because I knew we had a good roster,” Kaemmerling said. “I really was hoping for it and it came true.”

Cope said he has autographs of professional baseball players but the signed ball he received from his players Friday was ranked the best one, by far.

“I am the biggest fan of every single one of these baseball players,” Cope said. “As a fan, you want a signed ball from your favorite players. They’re all my favorite players and I got all their autographs, now.” 

Castillo went toe-to-toe with Pajaro Valley pitcher Tyler Brooks, who finished with a game-high 11 strikeouts in the losing effort.

“It was tough,” Castillo said about facing his friend. “Today, he owned me with strikeouts but it’s ok. At least our team got [the win].”

Cope said this year they focused on effort and attitude by trying to keep the emotions in check. 

“Just have fun, stay positive and play basic baseball. It really worked with this group,” he said.

Cope knew it was going to be a pitchers duel and he was surprised to score as many runs as they did on Brooks. 

“We’ve been doing nail biters this whole tournament,” Cope said.

The first three innings was a pitchers duel as both Brooks and Castillo combined for 10 strikeouts.

For Castillo, he said his main pitches were the curveball and fastball, which had batters whiffing or making them pop out when it looked like PV was about to put runs on the board.

Aptos’ defense also came up big for Castillo after a nice double play took away a scoring opportunity for Pajaro Valley in the third inning. 

The offense came alive in the top of the fourth when Pajaro Valley’s Shane McCoy got a lead-off triple. He scored shortly after on an RBI single by Roman Magaña, giving them a 1-0 lead. 

Aptos responded in the bottom half of the frame starting with a successful bunt attempt by Cooper Defrancesco that put two runners in scoring position.

Kaemmerling drove them in with a crushing 2-run double that gave Aptos its first lead of the game at 2-1. 

“I was just sitting there and just waiting for that strike and I just choked up on the bat,” he said.  

Cope said that Kaemmerling had not gotten a hold of the ball like that during the entire tournament.

“He had the potential, we knew it was there and we kept trying to get him to find that swing,” he said. “And then he finally got a hold of it.” 

Moments later, Clayton Cope hit an RBI single that brought in Jacob Kissinger, extending the lead to 4-1.

Aptos added some insurance runs in the fifth including Evan Lampel’s 2-run double that put the game out of reach at 7-1. 

Brooks gave Pajaro Valley a bit of life with a lead-off double to start the sixth. Magaña drove in his teammate with a successful bunt attempt to cut the deficit at 8-2.

But it was too little, too late for Pajaro Valley as it watched its tournament run come to a close.

Pajaro Valley coach Robert Brooks said Wednesday was no different than any other game and it was fun to watch the kids play each other. 

“That’s what I enjoyed,” he said. “There were some hits off Dom [Castillo], there some hits off Bugs [Brooks], that’s just how the game goes.”

Brooks said the game very well could’ve ended in a low scoring affair the way both pitchers were performing on the mound. 

“They go at it hard, that’s just both of them,” he said. “We wouldn’t expect anything different or anything less.”

Pajaro Valley knew it was in a do-or-die and Brooks told the players all he wanted them to do was take it one game at a time but still have fun. 

“We just asked them to give us 110% and they did,” Brooks said. “They gave whatever they could, with all effort. PV’s known for not getting this far and it’s been a long time since we got this far.”

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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