Tri-City walk-off ends impressive Maidu all-star run

Harrigan delivers another strong pitching performance
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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When two pitchers are dealing the way they were Wednesday night at Folsom’s Mann Park, there is little margin for error. One pitching mistake in the midst of a dominating performance cost Maidu’s Coleman Harrigan, but only because his efforts were matched by an equally impressive pitching effort by CJ Whelan of Tri-City. The two staged an intense classic battle in the championship round of the Little League Section 4 Major division tournament. The game was in doubt until Tri-City’s Shawn Linck greeted Maidu reliever Nolan Murphy with a two-out grand slam home run that allowed his team to walk off with a 6-2 victory and a berth in the Northern California Divisional tournament that opens Saturday in Vacaville. Hits were at a premium in this battle as each team managed just four. The game featured great defense and outstanding pitching and many tense moments in both dugouts. Maidu scored first, hanging its only two runs in the top of the second inning. Whelan walked a pair of batters, and after Harrigan bunted them over to second and third with two outs, red-hot Jake Rodrigues was in the box for Maidu. Whelan challenged the Maidu shortstop, who ripped a line drive that just eluded Tri-City shortstop Niko Domingo and rolled all the way to the wall. When the dust settled, Rodrigues stood on third and two runs were on the board. After setting Tri-City down in order in the first, Harrigan had to deal with base runners the rest of the game, but the hard-throwing right-hander got the out pitches when he needed them, except in the home half of the third. A hit batter put a Tri-City runner on base in that stanza, and Jack McBride eventually made his way around to third base with two outs. That was when Harrigan made that one costly mistake. The pitch was up in the zone and Domingo put a good swing on it, sending it into the trees behind the left-field fence. It was Tri-City’s first hit of the night, but it was a big one. The score was tied at 2-2 at the midway point of the ball game. “I thought Coleman pitched a fantastic game as did Whelan for them,” said Maidu manager Greg Zanolli. “Tri-City is an excellent hitting team and to hold them to just the two runs on the home run through five innings was quite an accomplishment.” Both teams got leadoff hitters aboard a lot during the middle portion of the game, but the pitchers did not flinch. Maidu had singles to start the third (Michael Birch) and fourth (Peter Schofield), but both runners were stranded by Whelan. Tri-City’s AJ Sauer doubled to open the fourth, but Harrigan got a ground out and two strikeouts to quiet that threat. Harrigan fanned seven in his 5 1/3 innings of work. With all of the base runners in the game, Whelan did his best work as the contest progressed. From the time that Schofield reached on an infield hit to lead off the fourth, the right-hander retired the last nine Maidu batters he faced. He got two huge strikeouts to close out the fourth, and after setting down Maidu in order in the fifth, Whelan struck out the side in the sixth to set the stage for the drama in the home half of that inning. The fifth may have been the key to the pitcher’s night. Flirting with a pitch count that could have stopped him from going the distance, he sailed through that inning on just four pitches. Whelan struck out six Maidu hitters in the game. Domingo got things started for Tri-City in the final frame. Harrigan had allowed just two hits entering the inning, and was nearing his pitch limit when the Tri-City shortstop staged an impressive at-bat, burning a number of pitches before banging a single. A strikeout, a walk and a pair of wild pitchers put runners at the corners with one out and brought up Aidan Malm. It also ended the night for Harrigan, who went over his 85-pitch limit and had to come off the mound. Murphy came on, and with Zanolli looking to set up the force at home, he walked Malm intentionally to load the bases. That brought Linck to the dish and the left-handed hitter was ready for his moment in the bright lights. A towering opposite blast left no doubt about its destination, as it reached the trees behind the left-centerfield fence for the game-winning walk-off grand slam. “That was a tough way for our season to come to an end but we knew that Tri-City could hit the long ball up and down their order and they connected on two of them which was enough on this night,” Zanolli said. The loss brought to an end one of the most successful runs in Maidu Little League all-star history. “Our boys played a fantastic game and I couldn't be any prouder of them,” Zanolli said. “Their hard work for the last month plus was rewarded with a district championship and a trip to the section finals. Unfortunately the multiple games over the last three nights took its toll on our pitching as Tri-City was in a much better position having stayed in the winner's bracket.” Maidu ran off five straight elimination game wins to win the District 54 title, and took two more must-win contests in this tournament, before coming up just short in the attempt to make it eight straight win with its back to the wall. “To have played nine games in district and four more in sections we played a lot of baseball in a very short amount of time and hopefully the boys created some friends and memories they will have for a long time,” Zanolli said. The victory clinched the section title for Tri-City, which will face the winner of San Jose’s Section 5 at 3 p.m. Saturday to open the Northern California Divisional tournament in Vacaville. “I think Tri-City has an excellent team and a very good chance to represent Section 4 proudly in the NorCal tournament and we wish them well,” Zanolli said.