July 12, 2017
Share this story:

By all reports, Tyler Holley is somewhere in middle of the pile after hitting a dramatic home run in the top of the seventh inning, propelling La Verne to a narrow victory.

ONTARIO, Calif., July 12, 2017 — In the La Verne / Upland Foothill finale at Homer Briggs Memorial Park in Ontario, there were so many zeroes posted on the celebrated scoreboard — made famous in a “Helpful Honda” commercial now airing throughout Southern California — some in the crowd had to wonder whether the blue electronic marvel was functioning properly.


Inning after inning, not a “1” or, heaven forbid, a crooked number, could be found. After six complete innings of play, the scoreboard still showed nothing but zeroes, as in La Verne, 0, and Upland National, 0.


But as it turned out, it wasn’t a malfunctioning scoreboard that was contributing to the shortage of runs, but rather the malfunctioning bats of both teams, and for that, both teams could blame the brilliant pitching of the opposition.


For La Verne, Matt Bustos took the hill, and he didn’t just take it, he commanded it, turning in a pitching virtuoso, rarely seen in any ballpark, Little League or Major League. By the time he left the mound, he faced 19 batters, 18 of whom found a seat on the bench after striking out. He came within one batter of pitching a six-inning perfect game, the perfection marred by a spare single off the bat of pinch hitter Uiagalelei with one out in the bottom of the sixth. He was virtually unhittable, his fastball blazing and his off-speed pitches dropping off the table faster than Newton’s apple. If the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw had been in the crowd, he would have been tipping his cap.


For the Upland Foothillers, it was Matt Marquez twirling his magic. Like Bustos, he faced the minimum nine batters through the first three innings, mixing his pitches his well, showing there is more ways to skin a cat than just overpowering hitters. In the top of the fourth, it looked as if La Verne might have finally solved the riddles he was throwing up to the plate. Justin Santiago and and Morgan both hit the ball as hard as anyone could without the horsehide leaving the park. In fact, the balls were hit so hard, you had to wonder whether the air traffic controllers at nearby Ontario International Airport were tracking them on their radar. Tyler Holley would also single with one out to help La Verne load the bases.


But just when many anticipated that the normally high-scoring La Verne all-stars would finally break through, Marquez had other ideas, whiffing Bustos and inducing Gabe Hibbard to pop up. But even the pop-up created its own drama, momentarily freezing all who saw it. When the untouched ball finally fell to the ground, its furious back-spin carried it to the first base-side foul line before Marquez finally gloved it and tagged Hibbard running by.


In the fifth and the sixth, Marquez was back to his old-self, setting down the next six batters he faced. In fact, he seemed to grow stronger and more confident with each pitch.


At the end of six innings of play, the score stood 0-0, and the partisan crowds on both sides stood in appreciation, realizing they were witnessing baseball magic.


With Marquez still on the mound to start the seventh, fans on both sides could have been excused for thinking they were about to watch more shutout baseball, but they didn’t know what lead-off hitter Tyler Holley was thinking.


“I knew they were going to try to pitch me a fastball away,” Holley said. And when they did on the very first pitch, Holley connected and lofted the ball into right field, expecting the ball to find a fielder’s mitt as pretty much every other ball had on the balmy night.  But Holley, who had led the La Verne majors in home runs with 17 in the regular season, misjudged this mighty blow because it sailed over the right field fence for a solo home run to give La Verne a 1-0 lead. What Holley later said he thought was a blooper over second base turned out to be a blast that left the yard. Clearly, the young man doesn’t know his own strength.


But the crowd clearly knew the significance of what had just happened. On a night when runs were scarcer than old people at a Chance the Rapper concert, that one home run might as well have been a hundred. Then for good measure, Bustos rifled his own shot over the left field fence to give La Verne a 2-0 lead.

Matt Bustos followed Holley’s blast with a home run, giving La Verne an insurance policy that proved helpful in extra innings.


It was over, right? Not so fast. La Verne’s Nolan Smith, summoned in relief, still had to come in and record three outs — not an easy task considering there’s something called the Law of Averages, the principle that supposes most future events are likely to balance any past deviation from a presumed average. In other words, a team as good as Upland Foothill would score sooner or later.


Facing the heart of the lineup, Smith set down the first two batters — a long fly ball and a backhanded stab at second turned in by the stellar La Verne defense. La Verne was one out a way. But Upland’s next two batters, Jake Ferretti and Joel Quemada walked, suddenly bringing the winning run to the plate in the form of Tyler Palhegyi. He cued a ball off the end his bat, and again time seemed to stand still before Palhegyi arrived at first base at the same time the ball arrived. When the dust had cleared, the ball had squirted out of the glove of Bustos and trickled up the right field line. Collectively, La Verne fans groaned and chaos was about to ensue.


But instead of a run scoring, Ferretti stopped at third, creating a traffic problem at the bag, forcing the trailing runner to retreat to second where he was tagged out by La Verne center fielder Clayton Roland, who alertly came in from his outfield position to cover the bag. 


“Nobody was covering second, and I knew the kid (the runner) had to come back,” Roland said.  The heads-up throw had come in from second baseman Santiago, who had been backing up the play at first, when the ball squirted away.


For the La Verne faithful, on the edges of their seats for the entire game, the improbable end must have come as a great relief.


For Bustos, who had done everything he could with his arm and bat to put La Verne in a position to win, it certainly did.


“I’m happy,” he said, joining in the victory celebration that had come after so much struggle when neither team would give an inch. “It feels great. I wasn’t thinking of anything but the win.”


But now La Verne does have something new to think about: traveling to Long Beach where they will attempt to continue their sweet summer of sensational play!


Your 2017 Section 3 Winners!


SOTHEBY’S REALTY, 909.374.4744

The La Verne players share their banner with their biggest supporters.

Leave a Reply