SOQUEL — Noah Piona missed the opening game of the District 39 Majors Tournament of Champions for the Capitola-Soquel Phillies, which they lost in heartbreaking fashion.
Piona found redemption by hitting the game-winning home run that helped the Phillies defeat the Pajaro Valley Giants, 15-4, in five innings in Wednesday’s championship.
“I was pretty nervous, it was pretty stressful,” Piona said. “But as soon as I hit it I knew it was going to be out. And it was so much fun running those bases.”
The Phillies clawed their way into the championship after getting placed in the loser’s bracket during the first week of the tourney.
It took seven straight wins for Capitola-Soquel to capture the title and coach Mike Virgallito said winning it all like that made it much more special.
“We had to work really hard for it,” he said. “We didn’t think we were going to get this far to be honest with you because it’s really tough.”
Virgallito said he believes playing nonstop throughout the tourney was a huge part of the team’s success.
“That makes it even more special,” he said.
Piona, who finished with two home runs, said it took an entire team effort — from hitting to pitching — for them to pull through all the way until the end.
“It feels pretty good to know that you’re better than everybody else,” Piona said. “We had to come all the way from the loser’s bracket, so it definitely wasn’t easy to do that… It was probably one of the best moments of my life.”
Capitola-Soquel Phillies pitcher Tyler Harway winds up for a pitch during Wednesday's District 39 Majors TOC Championship game against the Pajaro Valley Giants. (Juan Reyes — Register-Pajaronian)
Pajaro Valley coach Andy Garcia said he was proud of the team and gave credit to both the players and coaching staff.
“We started off as a raw team but they grew together throughout the year and we got better,” Garcia said.
The Giants had an opportunity to close out the season as champions on Tuesday but the Phillies rallied in the top of the sixth to force Wednesday’s winner-take-all game.
“We had our chance last night but we let it slip through our hands,” Garcia said.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Virgallito said he told the kids to have fun and just to do their best.
“Win or lose, we’ve had a great run,” Virgallito said. “Let’s just go out there and have fun, play hard and be aggressive.”
Phillies starting pitcher Tyler Harway was nothing but aggressive in the first two innings. He also had help from the offense after they took a 3-0 lead going into the third inning.
The Giants finally got to Harway in the top of the third inning, starting with a pair of RBI base hits that cut the deficit to just a run.
PV scored two more runs to take its first lead of the game, 4-3.
Virgallito, who missed Tuesday’s game, said he was anticipating another close battle with the Giants.
“I heard it was a tight game (Tuesday) night and we could expect the same,” he said. “But we were pretty confident with our pitching… we planned to have our two best pitchers available for today if we were to get here.”
Harway and Aiden Rathert, who came in as the closer in the fourth, did an outstanding job on the mound by pitching four scoreless innings.
The Phillies regained control in third starting with a three-run triple by Nativo Gonzalez.
Capitola-Soquel extended the lead with Piona’s first home run. Then a pair of RBIs made it 13-4 going into the fourth inning.
“We made too many errors,” Garcia said. “We had one 10-run inning and that’s what got us… we were not able to recover.”
The Giants were also playing on a field they weren’t used to. Garcia said it was a faster field and the kids were thrown off by having to switch venues.
“This was an all-dirt infield and it took a game to adjust to it,” he said. “I think if we would’ve played them at Live Oak we could’ve beat them over there.”
The Giants tried to answer back and set themselves up with runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings.
A group of players from the Pajaro Valley Giants stand on the field with their second place medals after coming up short in Wednesday's District 39 Majors TOC Championship against the Capitola-Soquel Phillies. (Juan Reyes — Register-Pajaronian)
But the Phillies defense stepped up and made an inning-ending double play in the fifth that prevented PV from starting a late-game rally.
“We were just trying to play sound defense, that’s our goal,” Virgallito said.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Phillies had a runner on second base ready to score the game-winning run.
But it was Piona who sealed the deal with a swing of the bat that sent the ball soaring into centerfield for a home run that gave Capitola-Soquel the District 39 championship banner.
“These kids have come up since tee-ball and played together and we haven’t gotten a banner,” Virgallito said. “So it’s great to get it in their final year of little league.”