The Sparks 13-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars survived a slow start Tuesday morning and took down South Reno 12-7 for the state championship and a berth into the Pacific Southwest Regional tournament hosted by Surprise, Ariz. at the end of the month.
The two teams battled to a 3-2 decision two days earlier that sent Sparks into the championship game and South Reno into the losers’ bracket. Tuesday’s title bout was shaping up similarly with Sparks needing to fight back for the win.
Trailing 5-3 after three innings, Sparks got the equalizer in the top of the fourth on a botched double play attempt.
Sparks had the bases loaded with no outs when Vinnie Fillipone hit a grounder to second base. One run scored on the fielder’s choice as South Reno turned the first half of a double play, but the throw back to first was off the mark, allowing the game-tying run to score.
That didn’t deflate South Reno’s hopes of forcing an ‘if’ game.
South Reno answered right back with a run in its bottom half of the inning. Bryce Denning drew a leadoff walk on four straight balls. He was able to move from second to third on a swinging strike three that got away from the catcher, which turned out to be huge as Jake Berger lined an RBI single to left field, moving South Reno into a 6-5 lead. It just happened to be the last lead of the game for South Reno.
Sparks scored its first five runs on only two hits through four innings of play. The bats woke up in the fifth frame.
“We put a little fire under their butts,” Sparks 13-year-olds manager Ed Thompson said. “This team has always been able to hit. They just came alive right now.”
Sparks rapped out five hits as part of a seven-run rally.
Josh Prizina started the rally with a seeing-eye single between shortstop and third base. A fielding error put runners on first and second.
Following the first out of the inning, South Reno coaches told center fielder Cohen Kreitlein to cover more of the right-center field gap. Seconds later, Cody Jones blasted the first pitch he saw to deep center field where Kreitlein had previously been positioned. Jones ended up on second with a double and Prizina came home to tie the game at 6-6.
Sparks took a 7-6 edge on a fielding error that left runners on the corners.
That also ended Berger’s pitching stint after 4 1-3 innings. He struck out seven, but his four walks and two hit batsmen hurt his cause.
Jeremiah Harmon, who started the game on the bench, stepped up to the plate and welcomed Kreitlein to the mound by launching the first pitch to dead center, doubling home a run.
South Reno chose to intentionally walk Fillipone to load the bases, but Anthony Messenger made South Reno pay, dumping a two-run single to shallow right-center field and increasing the gap to 10-6.
Fillipone came home on a wild pitch and Tristan Yocum’s high chopper up the middle got through the infield and plated Messenger to cap the rally.
Fillipone also came on in a relief role in the third inning, pitching the final 4 2-3 innings to pick up the win. South Reno tagged him for one last run in the bottom of the sixth on a double by Berger, but South Reno struggled coming up with clutch hits all day, stranding 11 runners.
Fillipone pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh and the celebrations began.
“Vinnie likes being in the spotlight. He thrives in it,” Thompson said. “When the pressure is on, he always comes through. In the two games prior, he had the game-winning hits for us, too. So we put him in the spot he likes to be best.”
Sparks took a three-run lead with a trio of unearned runs in the top of the second, all without the help of a base hit.
But then South Reno tallied five runs of its own. South Reno scored a lone run in the second inning on a wild pitch.
In the third, South Reno pushed across four runs. The big blow came on a two-run double by Peyton Sakelarias, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles. Will Barnard made it a 5-3 ballgame with an RBI groundout.
Berger and Michael Davis both had two hits in the losing cause, while Messenger and Coleman achieved the same feat for the winners. Coleman had a triple to go with his double.