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City Championship goes to last pitch

Courtesy of Chris Molina
Madera City Champions and Madera American Little League champion Lee’s Concrete celebrate with their rings and trophys after defeating Madera National champions Kiwanis, 4-3, Saturday night.


Guni Grewal leads Lee’s Concrete to sixth City title after 4-3 win over Kiwanis


Kiwanis loaded the bases in the top of the sixth inning trailing 4-3.


The Kiwanis batter drew three straight balls from Lee’s Concrete pitcher Frankie Espejo. Another ball and the Madera National Little League champions would tie the game.


Espejo came back with a pair of strikes. With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, Espejo closed out the game with the strike out to secure the 4-3 victory Saturday and give Lee’s Concrete manager Guni Grewal his sixth Madera City Championship after his eighth Madera American Little League championship.


“I was worried at the last pitch, especially after he threw three balls,” Grewal said. “He came back with three strikes. We had faith in him. That’s why we put him on the mound.”


“It’s baseball. Lee’s is a good team,” Kiwanis manager George Reyes said.


Lee’s Concrete scored four runs in the third inning and Espejo made them stand up, tossing the final three innings in relief for the save. He allowed two runs and struck out nine batters.


Starter Noah Castro allowed a home run to Mason Kemmer in the first inning. Castro allowed one other hit and struck out seven in three innings.


“We were confused about the Tournament of Championship,” Grewal said. “We were trying to save him for that.”


Kemmer shut down Lee’s Concrete after they got to starter Andrew Rodriguez. Kemmer closed the game by not allowing a hit over the final three innings with eight strikeouts.


“All year long, we went with how the boys felt,” Reyes said. “They told me how they feel. I asked him and asked how he felt. He said he was a little tired.”


Rodriguez led all hitters with three hits for Kiwans. He combined with Kemmer for five of Kiwanis’ six hits.


Meanwhile, Castro led Lee’s Concrete with two hits, a run scored and an RBI.


With two outs in the first inning, Kemmer hit the second pitch he saw over the scoreboard advertisements behind the right centerfield fence for an early 1-0 lead.


Castro settled down from there. He struck out six of the next eight batters he faced to the fourth inning.


Lee’s Concrete scored all the runs they needed in the third inning. Jorge Gutierrez was hit with the first pitch of the inning. Espejo singled to left and an error allowed Gutierrez to head to third and Espejo to second.


Abel Martinez reached on an error and Gutierrez scored the game-tying run. Castro followed with a single to drive in Espejo with the go-ahead run.


Kemmer came in relief and struck out the next batter. However, a wild pitch and a passed ball to Jeremiah Montes scored Martinez and Castro for a 4-0 lead.


Kemmer struck out the side to get out of the third and struck out the first six batters he saw and eight of the 10 batters he faced.


Kiwanis chipped away at the lead. Rodriguez greeted Espejo on the mound with a single up the middle in the fourth. Jimmy Barrios singled to right and Rodriguez advanced to third. A wild pitch to Carson Brunolli allowed Rodriguez to score.


The MNLL champions sent Lee’s Concrete’s fans to the edge of their seats in the top of the sixth inning.


“That’s what kind of baseball we played all year long,” Reyes said. “People have counted us out all year. When they count us out, that’s when we step up. They are good ball players and excellent boys.”


Kemmer led off the inning with a single. Rodriguez followed with another single. Barrios hit a grounder to second, but the second baseman couldn’t make a decision where to get an out and the bases were loaded.


A wild pitch to Cody Wilkerson drove in Kemmer to cut the Lee’s Concrete lead to one.


After a strikeout, Grewal decided to intentionally walk Brunolli to load the bases again with Kiwanis’ No. 8 and No. 9 batter due up.


“We saw what they did in the inning before that and went by the book,” Grewal said.


Espejo struck out the No. 8 batter on three pitches for the second out of the inning.


However, he threw three balls to the No. 9 batter. Espejo ended the dramatics with three straight strikes to end the game and secure a 4-3 victory.