The Watsonville PONY All-Star team battled its way through the losers’ bracket in the NorCal Coast Regional tournament and took second place.
Watsonville came up short, 5-1, against Santa Cruz Blue in Sunday’s Coast Regional championship game at Pacific Grove High School.
Watsonville manager Moses Leonor said Santa Cruz’s pitcher was on point from the beginning of the game.
“Their guy was dealing, he was one,” Leonor said. “We got our hits here and there but they were scattered.”
Leonor said Watsonville left a couple of base runners stranded in a couple of innings. It was also the third time they had faced the same pitcher in the past two weeks.
“Every single game we played them we were in a similar situation with him,” Leonor said. “I feel like that’s why they kept throwing the (pitcher) at us because he was effective against us.”
Starting pitcher Joseph Keldsen threw for four innings and recorded four strikeouts. He gave up three runs in the third.
Isaiah Romero relieved Keldsen in the fifth. Leonor said Romero was able to slow down Santa Cruz’s offense, allowing a run in the sixth.
Isaak Vargas led off with a single in the top of the second. The next two batters struck out, which brought Jacob Vitela up to the plate.
Vitela singled for an RBI to give Watsonville an early 1-0 lead. Keldsen went 1-for-3 with a double, while Nathaniel Arreola went 1-for-1.
Giovanni Aguirre went 1-for-3 and Josh James went 1-for-3 for Watsonville.
Leonor said Santa Cruz Blue was the strongest team in the tournament and the game plan was to go in prepared to play against them in the second round. But Watsonville lost, 10-0 in the first meeting.
“That didn’t happen so we fell into that losers’ bracket and it doesn’t make anything easier but we were able to cruise right through it,” Leonor said.
Seven teams, including two from Santa Cruz — Blue and Red — and tournament host Pacific Grove competed in the double-elimination tournament.
The top-two teams — Santa Cruz Blue and Watsonville — advanced to the Super Regional, which takes place at the Shoreline Athletic Field in Mountain View beginning July 23.
The first set of tournaments is the first stage of a possible journey to the PONY International World Series in Washington, Pa.
The Watsonville Pony all-star team battled its way through the losers bracket in the NorCal Coast Regional tournament and won a second place medal. (contributed by Olivia Guzman)
Last year, all-star teams from Santa Clara, Morgan Hill, Campbell and South San Francisco — which compete in the Coast and Central sections — played in a 10-team Coast Regional tourney Franich Park in Watsonville.
Santa Cruz also won last year’s tournament, which makes it four out of five years — 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019 — that a team from Santa Cruz has won the Coast Regional title.
Santa Cruz has dominated the Coast Regional tournament alongside with Toro, which won the tourney in 2014 and 2016.
Watsonville got to Sunday’s championship game by getting a win in the tourney opener against Toro on July 8. But it then suffered its first loss at the hands of Santa Cruz Blue the following day.
Leonor said he knew Watsonville had the right group of players to get to the title game but it all came down to execution.
“We have the pitchers, they just had to come through and get us in a position where we can we win a game,” Leonor said.
Watsonville bounced back by winning its first game in the losers’ bracket against Carmel, followed by shutout win against Mid-County.
Watsonville won its semifinals match, 3-1, against tournament host Pacific Grove on Saturday.
But despite the loss, Watsonville is still alive and advanced to the Super Regional. The team is expected to play the winner from the Central Section.
Watsonville has not reached the Super Regional round at the 14-year-old level since 2013, when a star-studded group won the Coast Regional title and fell just a couple wins short of the Super Regional championship game.
Leonor said he’s glad the boys got a chance to experience a taste of what tournament play is about and advancing to the next tournament.
“For this group of kids it’s special because on paper nobody expected this team to advance,” Leonor said.
About 90 percent of the team hasn’t been in a situation like this but Leonor said he’ll keep reminding them that all they’re doing is playing baseball.
“The game doesn’t change. It just gets a little harder but it doesn’t change,” he said. “Anything can happen in baseball and I just gotta keep reminding them that we can get our ‘Ws’, we can win.”
Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the July 19 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.