by Tanner Puckett
In an offense-heavy affair in 13u Division 1, the West Covina Dukes (CA) picked up a 10-6 win over the Midland Bandits on Friday night at the Triple Crown Arizona Spring Championships.
The four-inning game saw 48 plate appearances and 20 hits between the two teams to go with the 16 total runs scored in their first pool play game of the event.
Though there were some loud hits, it was a combination of small ball and slugging that proved effective for the Dukes. They had nearly as many bunts in play (three) as they did extra-base hits (four).
“Guys came through with bunts and we put runners in scoring position,” said Dukes head coach Armando Palacio. “We surprised them when they brought in their third pitcher (Sean Willingham) with a bunt down the third base line.”
That bunt single in the third, placed perfectly by Ryan McNamara, moved runner Garret Dykstra over to third base who would score on the next play. McNamara would also find home plate in the inning.
The other two bunts were laid down in the first inning in consecutive plate appearances. The first, from Charlie Vasquez, drew an errant throw from pitcher Nick Ellis, moving runner Troy Estrada into scoring position. The second, from Dykstra, moved Estrada to third. A groundout from McNamara allowed the runner to score from third.
That single run in the first put West Covina ahead of Midland (TX). The Dukes never fell behind in the contest.
Instead, they put together two doubles, two triples and strings of hard singles to score nine more runs in the final three frames.
One of the loudest hits of the night came off the bat of Mike Villagran, who was 2-for-2 with a single, triple and a sacrifice fly. He connected on the two-strike triple to lead off the second inning and start the Dukes’ scoring.
Villagran showcased an ability to drive in the runner with his fourth-inning, opposite field sac fly, the final run of the game.
“I knew we needed the run and I also knew I needed to go the other way so the runner could score,” Villagran said. “That ended up being a sac fly to right field.”
Colin Olsen also delivered a great performance at the plate, picking up a pair of singles and driving in two runs.
The Dukes’ starting pitcher, Olsen’s final line of six runs allowed over 2.1 innings doesn’t tell the full story. Before a monster third inning from the Bandits that would bring the game’s only tie since the start, Olsen had cruised through two innings, giving up just two hits and a walk while striking out three.
“I was just trying to keep my cool,” Olsen said. “It’s just a normal game and we can get through it.”
After Olsen was pulled in the third, Caleb Nguyen took the mound for West Covina. The first three Bandits reached, but the inning ended on a pickoff at third and a strikeout.
Nguyen found his groove at the end of that third inning. Returning for the fourth, he struck out the first two he faced and induced a weak grounder back to himself for the final out. It was the only one-two-three inning of the game.
“He was great,” Palacio said of Nguyen. “Once he came in for the last inning, he’d settled in and didn’t have to deal with the baserunners. He came in and threw a lot of strikes, and that’s what we needed.”
The Dukes made quite a statement, given a weather-driven slow start to the year. Rain-soaked California has put what would normally be a team in its 12th or 13th game of the year at just six so far this season.
Still, after winning a tournament last weekend, the Dukes are hungry to make a statement. Their offensive outburst was a good start.
“It was huge coming into this weekend because we’ve never been to something this big,” Villagran said. “To show up with a pretty good win tonight is a good way to start it off.”