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MSJLL Junior All Stars Fall Just Short in Section 3 Championship Game
The MSJLL Junior All Star team's magical 2019 season finally ended on Thursday night with a 6-4 loss to the Livermore / Granada Junior All Star team, a very tough opponent who won the 2018 Intermediate Little League World Series, USA Championship last year. It was the Section 3 Championship game, and with their win, the Livermore team advanced to the NorCal State Championship tournament starting Saturday in Distict 34, Visalia.
Playing 4 games on 4 consecutive nights tested MSJLL's pitching depth, but they were able to save their ace Kaden Voong for the big game, and aggressively seized a 3-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning. Ratik Iyer had a big RBI hit. But Livermore kept chipping away and pressuring MSJLL's defense, and pulled ahead 5-3 in the bottom of the 5th. Henry Zhao kept the game close by throwing out a runner at second base from right field. Down 6-3 in the top of the 7th, MSJLL came scrambling back, Zachary Okino singled, Rithik Ram walked, and Arjun Singh singled to load the bases with no outs, and knock out Livermore's starting pitcher. But MSJLL's big hit never came, and the game ended 6-4 with their tying runs stranded in scoring position.
MSJLL played their way through the Section 3 Tournament into the Championship Game, coming up through the losers' bracket and staving off elimination the 2 previous nights. The tournament started on Monday night in Game 1, in which MSJLL lost to Livermore, 11-3, to drop into the losers' bracket. The team uncharacteristically made 6 errors, walked 10, and threw 4 wild pitches, leading to 8 unearned runs, with full credit to the Livermore team for putting a lot of pressure on MSJLL with their hitting and base running.
Tuesday night in Game 2 was a pitchers' duel in which MSJLL defeated the All Stars from Half Moon Bay, 1-0 in a thriller. Zachary Okino threw a 7-inning complete game, 78 pitch shutout, allowing only 4 hits and no walks, and striking out 6, supported by an error-free defense. Half Moon Bay's starter was strong as well, but consumed his pitch count in the bottom of the 6th inning, and handed the game over to his bullpen, tied 0-0. Later in that inning, Roshan Sanjeev scored the game's only run a wild pitch, advancing from third base. MSJLL survived and moved on.
In the semi-final, Game 3 on Wednesday night, MSJLL outlasted the Mount Eden All Stars from Hayward, by a score of 8 to 5. Starting pitcher Arjun Singh battled exhaustion and threw 95 pitches to make it through 5-1/3 innings. Ragav Baskar and Mohnish Harwani both singled in the top of the 5th to extend MSJLL's lead to 7-2. Inheriting a bases loaded, 1-out situation in the bottom of the 6th, bullpen pitcher Rithik Ram escaped the inning with the lead intact. Aidan Paragas stole home to score an insurance run in the top of the 7th, and Vinhson Nguyen pitched a clean bottom of the 7th for the save, setting up the Championship game rematch. Joseph Du lead the offensive charge with a single, double, 2 RBI and 3 steals.
During the tournament, the team missed Suraj Kumar and Arjun Vaidun, who both took early summer vacations. The team was coached by Bobby Kanno, Wayne Sakuda, Ram Thiagarajan, Viktor Paragas, Allen Voong, and Khai Nguyen, and managed by Paul Okino, with a lot of help from Team Mom Vidya Rajaraman, and the whole Mission San Jose Village.
Their Little League journey started in 2012, as 6 and 7-year olds. In 2015 they played their first 9-10 year old All Star tournament, winning 2 and losing 2 games, and their dream of winning a championship was born. The team's core stayed together through 2016-2019, while also continuously adding critical talent and coaching to keep improving. The team's next dream is to win a championship during the next 4 years of high school baseball.