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Dodgers top Angels in all-Woodcreek TOC finale

Patience at the plate, solid defense keys to victory
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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After a one-year hiatus in 2008, the season-ending party that ends the Little League District 54 major division Tournament of Champions returned to its exclusive status with Wednesday night’s all-Woodcreek final. For the third time in the last four years, two teams from the league on the west side of Roseville squared off to the district title. While the Braves and A’s were the dominant teams in 2006 and 2007, this TOC title tilt featured the regular season champion Dodgers and the runner-up Angels at their home field, Mahany Park. The Angels got off to a fast start against Dodger starter Tyler Malone in the home half of the first, but they were unable to sustain the offensive momentum as the Dodgers worked their way back a run per inning until they had taken control. In the end, a few untimely defensive miscues of their own combined some timely Dodger hits cost the Angels in a 9-5 Dodger victory. “After going up on them 4-1 our bats went flat,” said Angels manager Jamie Clifton. “The Dodgers are a great team and if you don't stay on them and match the offense they will come out ahead.” Malone chased home the first Dodger run in the top of the initial stanza, as his two-out single plated Justin Pejovich, who had walked. As they have done in every tournament game, the Angels came up big right out of the chute. A Darrel Doll single followed by a Chris Loeb double set things up. Josh Cooper reached on an error as Doll scored the first run, and then Garrett Grijalva ripped a two-bagger to score two more. A Tyler Bounds sacrifice fly capped the first inning scoring for the Angels. That outburst turned out to be all that the Angels could muster against Malone, who allowed one hit in the second before setting the side down in order in the third and fourth before turning the bump over to Pejovich. “Tyler Malone did start slowly but he settled down nicely for the next few innings,” said Dodger manager Mike Watari. “After the first inning, I spoke to Tyler to try and settle him down. As his pitch count approached 70, I knew it was time to get him out of there even though he still had 15 more pitches to go.” The Dodgers picked up a single tally in the second, as Joey Pankratz walked and eventually scored on a wild pitch. The youngster was safe at second base on an error during an attempted force play, and moved to third on a Ryan Busch base hit that loaded the bags. After a pair of outs, and the wild pitch, the Angels pitched around the powerful Hank Pankratz to load the bases before Loeb struck out Carson Farnworth to get out of trouble allowing just the one run. Two outstanding plays by second baseman Tyler Bounds put the Angels in a good position in the top of the third, but an error began a downward spiral. After Joey Pankratz reached on the miscue, Loeb walked the Dodgers’ eight and nine hitters before leadoff man Justin Watari banged a run-scoring single. The Dodgers finally took the lead in the fourth, after the pitch count rule got the best of Loeb. The southpaw began the stanza with just five pitches remaining, but remained on the hill to face Hank Pankratz to open the inning. Pankratz and Loeb battled before a check-swing on a 2-2 pitch rang up the power hitter and ended Loeb’s outing with five punch-outs. “Hank was trying hard to impress the crowd this evening but the Angels pitchers kept him off balance and kept the ball away from him,” Watari said in discussing his shortstop’s three walk, one strikeout night. “We may have witnessed one of the most impressive seasons (from Hank Pankratz) a 12-year-old can put together.” Doll was next up on the bump, and Farnworth was waiting with a less-then-cordial greeting. The Dodger first baseman sent Doll’s initial offering over the fence for a game-tying long ball. “Chris Loeb looked strong early but I kept telling my boys to be patient at the plate and wait for something they can drive and hit hard,” Watari said. “I believe we scored in every inning. When a team scores a run an inning, the pitch counts generally will go up. With the pitch count limits, getting into the Angels bullpen was the key to our success tonight.” Another error on a Joey Pankratz ground ball plated an additional run for the Dodgers, and the team never looked back. A Pejovich single and a base on balls to Hank Pankratz put two runners aboard in the fifth when Farnworth ripped a run-scoring double. Both Pankratz and Farnworth crossed the plate on wild pitches to expand the advantage to four runs at 8-4. Both teams scored runs in their final at bat to set the final margin, but just when it looked like the Angels were getting things going in the final frame, Hank Pankratz stole the show, but this time it was with the leather. A spectacular backhand play in the hole at short, with a long throw to first opened the inning, and the game ended as the shortstop snared a line drive and turned it into a title-winning double play. The Angels may have lost this contest, but Clifton was impressed with his squad’s effort and happy to see the TOC banner back in the league. “It was good to get the banner back to Woodcreek,” Clifton said. “Most of all the kids should know that out of 13 leagues in District 54, only 24 kids make the finals of TOC each year. This is something they all should be proud of and will remember for the rest of there lives.” Watari’s crew finished off an impressive run to a title that began two years ago with a 3-17 campaign in his first year at the helm. “This was an incredible journey for the team,” Watari said. “Losing that first game of the season 6-5 against the Angels and then putting together an incredible run of 23 straight wins. Playing the Angels in the TOC championship was exciting. Anytime you play in front of big crowds, it really gets the adrenaline going. That's what makes this the best sport in the world.”