Pajaro Valley Little League All-Stars third baseman Brady Duque, right, celebrates with fellow teammate Dante Ponce after Duque drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning to beat Santa Cruz LL, 3-2, in the District 39 Championship game on June 29. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

Pajaro Valley Majors All-Stars third baseman Brady Duque was put in a situation during last week’s district title game that nearly every Little Leaguer dreams of being in.  

The game was on the line, score tied in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and the bases loaded in front of a packed house at Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz. 

Duque soaked in every minute of that moment as he delivered the biggest walk-off hit of his young career, helping lift PV to a 3-2 victory over Santa Cruz LIttle League to capture the Majors All-Stars District 39 Championship on June 29.   

PV’s ace pitcher Mel Martinez rushed Duque in excitement not only because they had both just won their first district championship, but it was the league’s first-ever majors all-stars D-39 title in its 16-year existence.

“It’s history for the town,” Martinez said.

PV head coach Ali Luna said the resilience and hard work of this 12-U team is phenomenal. They’ve been on the field six days a week, including conditioning. 

“Just really focused on mental game, resilience and hard work. They bought into it,” Luna said. 

Luna mentioned the team has a saying that goes ‘AAA: active, alert and aware’. He said boys jumped on it and gelled together tremendously. 

“It was an amazing tournament, and I couldn’t be more proud of these PV boys. It’s been a long time coming,” Luna said.

PV stayed put in the winning bracket by going 3-0 in the tournament and beating Santa Cruz—the defending 11s All-Star D-39 champion.

“[Santa Cruz] plays hard, and they definitely didn’t give it to us,” Luna said. “The boys had to work really hard and everybody contributed today, everybody played a part and that’s what this PV baseball has been all about.”

Santa Cruz got to Martinez early by taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning. But it didn’t faze the young hurler from Watsonville, who efficiently threw his two-seam fastball and slider for seven strikeouts prior to being pulled in the fifth due to the 85-pitch count limit. 

“I was just nervous a little bit but I had to keep my head up, not hang my head and try to finish my best through the game,” he said.

Luna called Martinez one of the top three pitchers in Santa Cruz County and can deliver on the mound at any given time. 

“[Martinez] works hard, works off the field and on the field,” Luna said. “His leadership on the team has been part of the reason why we’ve been winning a lot.” 

Luna said he sensed a dark cloud looming above his players’ heads, which was something they weren’t accustomed to after bringing a level of intensity in the first two games. 

Martinez and his teammates managed to find that spark of energy as the game progressed.

“We’re not done until the umpire tells us to go home,” Luna said. “We’re gonna continue to push that. We got a lot of great players. You got the families behind us, which is huge. We’ve got the town behind us, and we’re gonna keep going.”

PV began to chip away beginning with one run scored in the second inning. Martinez also looked a lot more composed by striking out three in the top of the third frame. 

In the bottom of the fifth, first baseman Dante Ponce hit a blast that cleared the center field wall for a solo home run to tie the game at 2-all.

“After that home run we felt like we were going to win the game and we just kept on hitting and hitting, getting on base,” Martinez said. 

Santa Cruz had one last chance to take the lead with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. Duque—who came in to relieve Martinez—got out of the jam by forcing a grounder to shortstop Marcos Arredondo for the force out at second base. 

In the bottom of the sixth, Duque got his chance to become the hero. He capitalized with a powerful hit to the shortstop, who couldn’t hang on for the catch and allowed Julian Montes to score the game-winning run.

“We were really excited, everyone was pumped up inside the dugout,” Martinez said.

It was a bittersweet victory for Luna, who coached the Santa Cruz Little League 11-U All-Stars to a D-39 title in 2023. Luna’s son, Carmelo, played Tee Ball all the way up through this past year in the Majors on Rich Young Field.  

“We moved over to PV this last year and were received with open arms,” Luna said. “They really embraced the program, they really embraced my son and I, and I couldn’t be more grateful for PV baseball.” 

Next up, PV will play against the District 12 champion in the Majors Section 5 playoffs at Gilroy Sports Park on July 12 at 5:30pm. 

“We’re going to try to do the same thing we did, no one got down in the dugout after mistakes. We just gotta keep our heads up and do stuff like that,” Martinez said.

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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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