La Verne’s New Heart Attack Kids Win a Thriller, Setting up Championship Game Vs. Hacienda Heights Tonight at 6:30

July 21, 2009
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From left, game heroes Joey Halabrin, Justin Gomez, Connor Russell, Ice Carranza and Sean Heberer

From left, game heroes Joey Halabrin, Justin Gomez, Connor Russell, Ice Carranza and Sean Heberer

Thankfully, kids, unlike insurance companies, don’t know much about actuarial science, that dismal discipline that says in the end the percentages win out – that after scoring 20 runs one night, you’re lucky to score any the next!

It was exactly that script that was playing out on Tuesday night at the Hacienda Heights Little League field. For the first five innings, the same group of La Verne 12-year-old All-Stars who had scored 20 runs on Monday couldn’t score a single run on Tuesday. In less than 24 hours, they had gone from deluge to draught, from feast to famine.

The team just couldn’t break through that invisible statistical wall. They put at least one runner in scoring position in the first, second and fourth innings, but couldn’t manufacturer a single run. Manager Bobby Diebold had even warned them of the possibility that their Monday night laugher could easily turn into Tuesday’s lament. As a result, La Verne was losing 1-0 going into the top of the sixth.

After Hacienda Heights set down La Verne’s first two batters, it needed only to dispose of clean-up hitter Justin Gomez to win the sectional tournament. It was at that moment, however, that the La Verne All-Stars threw out the statistical book and finally got down to playing their brand of baseball.

Gomez spanked a solid single to center, keeping La Verne’s faint hopes alive. The crowd started to stir. Isaiah Carranza, who had pitched so brilliantly in giving up just one run to Hacienda Heights through five innings, followed with a double, putting runners on second and third and setting the stage for the biggest at-bat of Sean Heberer’s young baseball career.

Despite having two strikes on him and carrying the weight of the entire season on his shoulders, Heberer still looked confident at the plate. On a 1-2 pitch, Heberer took a change-up that narrowly missed the inside corner. On the very next pitch, Heberer stroked a bounding single into left field, scoring both Gomez and Carranza.

All hands on deck: Fateful mound conference before Hacienda Heights broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth in a bang-bang play at first, allowing the run to come in from third.

All hands on deck: Fateful mound conference before Hacienda Heights broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth on a bang-bang play at first, allowing the runner to come in from third.

The turnaround was shocking and stunningly swift. After Jake Tilton walked, Joey Halabrin knocked in Heberer for an insurance run to give La Verne a 3-1 lead. Statistics be damned. La Verne played with heart and saved its best for last.

For manager Bobby Diebold, he said he never doubted that his boys of summer would come through when the moment was right.

“We had the heart of our line-up coming up,” Diebold said with a widening smile. “Those guys have been putting the ball in play and hitting the ball hard all tournament long. Go-go (Gomez) led off that two-out rally with a hit, Isaiah then got us to second and third. And Heberer’s been coming up in big spots, not just in this tournament, but in the district tournament. And he did a very good job driving in the go-ahead runs.”

The game had started as a duel in the sun, ace versus ace, mano a mano, La Verne’s Carranza against Hacienda Heights’ hard-throwing hurler Jesse Mireles. But Mireles hurt himself and had to leave the mound in favor of Stephen Diaz, who continued to hold La Verne in check.

Connor Russell almost helped La Verne break through in the fourth. He hit a shot that struck the yellow tubing along the top of the fence before the ball bounded back on to the field. At first, it was ruled a long single. Then the umpires reversed their decision and signaled home run with a circular wave of the right hand. Russell circled the bases and was met at home plate with a flurry of backslaps, helmet taps and high fives. Then the umpires reversed themselves again and put Russell back on first. Gomez followed with a walk, but both he and Russell were left stranded.

Hacienda Heights had some tough luck of their own in the bottom of the third. The team would have had runners on second and third with two outs if not for Daniel Mendez sliding headfirst into second base, a violation of Little League rules. The infraction resulted in an automatic out and the end to the inning, leaving Hacienda Heights’s most dangerous hitter, Mireles, standing in the on-deck circle instead of marching to the plate.

In the fifth, however, Hacienda Heights punched home a run on three singles, the last off the bat of Diaz who beat out a close throw to first to give the home team a 1-0 lead after five innings of play. With the run, Hacienda Heights needed only three outs to win the game and tournament, and send La Verne home for an early summer vacation.

“What a great game,” Diebold said. “It’s one of the best games, I’ve ever been a part of, let alone coached.”

In less than 24 hours, the two teams will compete again, the statistics and previous play between the two teams all but forgotten. All that separates winner and loser is six innings. The winner will advance to divisional play in Encino, Calif., moving one step closer to the Western Regional Playoffs in San Bernardino and a ticket to Williamsport, home of the International Little League championship.

La Verne’s pitching rotation is set: “We’re going with Big Joe (Halabrin) and follow up with Robert (Peterson) and Tanner (Diebold) if we have to,” the senior Diebold said.

If you haven’t seen La Verne’s 12-year-old All-Stars play, seize the moment and come watch them play. Take the 60 west, exit Azusa, turn left (south) at the signal. Turn right at Pepper Brook Way (across from the Puente Hills Mall) and right again at Wedgeworth Dr. and follow to 16949 E. Wedgeworth Dr. The first pitch will be thrown at 6:30 p.m.

The stage is set; only the script needs to be written.

Great moments are always worth a second look. See you at the ballpark!

Great moments are always worth a second look. See you at the ballpark!

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