By Ryan Buck
A little small ball goes a long way. The notion was never more evident than Wednesday at Cene Park.
The Youth Service League Blue Devils tied the game on an unearned run in the bottom the sixth inning and pushed another across in the seventh to claim the PONY Baseball Colt-15 Zone title.
Youngstown All-Stars starter Noah Laster held the Blue Devils to five hits, but the visitors from New York manufactured runs the hard way in a 2-1 win.
The Youth Service League, based in the baseball hotbed of Brooklyn boasts baseball stars Manny Ramirez, Shawon Dunston and Nelson Figueroa as alumni.
“It was hard,” said Youth Service coach Julio Navarro. “We just had to wait for the right opportunity to get men on base to execute and win the game.
“When you put pressure on a team, mistakes are made so it worked to our advantage.”
Guiseppe Orlando and Maximano Guadalupe notched consecutive one-out singles in the sixth to force Laster’s first sign of trouble.
Laster forced a pop-out to short before William Leino’s slow ground ball to the left side of the infield brought a throwing error to tie the game at 1.
After starter Tim Lopez, who threw a complete game for the kids from Brooklyn, escaped the seventh unscathed, Navarro’s team did what it does best.
No. 9 hitter Johnny Savinon doubled down the left-field line to lead off and advanced to third on a groundout. With Youngstown’s entire defense pinched in, Samuel Brioso raced down the first-base line as Laster fielded his well-foreseen bunt attempt.
Laster’s throw was high, pulling Lou Cardona off the bag as Savinon raced home, slid and beat the throw for the winning run.
“We’re a straight 15-year-old team and in New York City, there aren’t many 15-year-old teams,” Navarro said. “We have to play 16, 17 and 18 year-old teams. Their pitching overpowers us so what we try to do is manufacture runs, move runners over with a lot of steals and a lot of bunts.
“We do it to give us an advantage.”
Until the final two innings Laster kept a normally potent offense off the scoreboard. The Youngstown All-Stars, comprised of a select group from the local Class B League, needed to win twice to claim the title.
After taking a loss in uncharacteristic fashion Tuesday — Laster struggled to find the plate in the Youngstown All-Stars 13-3 loss to the Blue Devils in a tournament semifinal — the right-hander was dominant at times.
“He did everything we could’ve asked of him,” said Youngstown coach Bob Beam.
“[Laster] did great,” said Beam. “He started yesterday’s game against them and didn’t make it out of the first inning. After he came out he told us, ‘Hey, if we get them again tomorrow I want to pitch again.’
“We said, ‘OK, you’ve got it if we get to that point.’”
Youngstown had its chances. Bryce Richey reached on a fielder’s choice in the third and came across to score on Laster’s sacrifice fly to left.
On four other occasions, including a scoreless first when they loaded the bases, the local team stranded runners in scoring position.
“We hit the ball hard,” Beam said. “In the top of the seventh, it looks like we’re going to score two runs and end up not getting anything. It’s one of those days.
“Not to take anything away from them, but I think we hit the ball a lot harder than they did and we just didn’t get guys in.”