Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera American’s Rafael Velasco connects on a three-run, game-tying home run during Monday’s District 10 championship game loss to River Park.
FRESNO — Madera American 11-12-year-old All-Star baseball team manager Mike Molina finally seemed to have solved the River Park mystery.
He sent his son, Benji, to the mound and he kept Madera American in the ball game. He also used Molina’s regular season catcher Bryan Malagon behind the plate to throw off the River Park coaching staff.
Madera American used a fourth inning rally to tie the score at three. However, River Park scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning of Monday’s rematch to win the District 10 championship 6-3 at River Park.
“I am proud of them,” manager Molina said. “They worked hard, especially to rebound like that. They were panicking the whole game. We weren’t. We were confident.”
Molina’s teams have lost five straight games at River Park, including two in last year’s NorCal State tournament and a 24-4 loss June 22 in the semifinals of the District 10 Tournament.
Benji allowed just three hits in 4 2/3 innings. However, two were home runs and the other was a screaming ground rule double. He struck out eight and allowed four earned runs.
“The first game, their coaches were calling out my pitches,” Molina said. “They were stealing my signs and our catcher wasn’t doing a good job calling his own game. That’s why we put Malagon behind the plate. Between him and Benji, they had them off the whole game. They only had one hard hit the whole game. Those two home runs were barely hit off the end of the bat. Bryan and Benji did a great job.”
Madera American banged out five hits in the game and had its chances, but left seven runners on base. Rafael Velasco, who hit two home runs in Madera American’s previous game, hit a three-run shot to tie the score in the fourth inning.
“We kept our same lineup from the last game,” Molina said. “Even though Rafael was hot, we thought to leave him down there. He’s been on and it’s nice for him.”
Molina seemed to be cruising to open the game, using his breaking ball for strikes. He struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and walked two.
However, on an 0-2 pitch to River Park’s No. 8 batter, Molina left one over the plate and the ball was deposited just over the left field fence for a three-run home run.
Madera American put the pressure on River Park in the top of the fourth inning. Adam Arias led off the inning with a single up the middle. After a strikeout, Malagon singled up the middle.
The next batter struck out, but Velasco stepped up to the plate and hit the first pitch he saw over the right-centerfield fence for a three-run home run to tie the score.
Molina got out of the fourth and helped himself with a diving stop on a slow grounder and threw to first for the final out of the inning.
Madera American had a chance to break the tie in the top of the fifth. Reynoso led off the inning with a popup to shallow left-center. The River Park shortstop had the ball go in and out of his glove for an error. Reynoso advanced to second on a groundout and Reynoso went to third on a wild pitch. Arias was hit by a pitch and stole second. However, the next two batters struck out to end the inning.
River Park took the lead in the bottom of the fifth. On a 1-2 pitch, a River Park substitute in the No. 9 spot in the lineup hit a homer over the centerfield fence.
An error in right, a flyout and another error put runners on first and second before a ground rule double over the left field fence drove in two runs for a 6-3 lead.
Madera American still had a chance in the top of the sixth. Jair Alvarez singled to right and Velasco walked. After a strikeout, Alvarez and Velasco advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch. However a strikeout and a groundout ended the game.