Harlem advances with help of the long ball
“Important” is an understatement, “exciting” does not do it justice.
Tuesday’s showdown between Aptos, Calif., and Harlem, N.Y., was more than important, it was pivotal. The winner of the decisive game would continue on to the United States semifinal on Thursday; the loser would be eliminated from the World Series.
The players knew the game was crucial, the managers knew the game was crucial, and the 12,300 fans in attendance at Lamade Stadium knew the game was crucial. The stadium was electric.
“I try to tell my guys that this is just like every other game that we have played to get here,” Harlem manager Morris McWilliams said. “But they know that this is a larger crowd, higher stakes.”
The game went down to the wire, but in the end, Harlem topped the Aptos squad, 5-2.
Neither team held anything back, as both managers started their aces.
The matchup between Kevin Eichhorn for Aptos and Javier Lopez for Harlem dominated the first half of the game. The two pitchers allowed only three hits between them through three innings.
“Javier pitched a great game tonight,” McWilliams said. “Both pitchers pitched well.”
Harlem was knocking on the door in the second inning. But with runners at the corners and two outs, Eichhorn proved masterful. The 5-foot-3, 94-pound pitcher got Spencer White to chase a curveball in the dirt for the clutch strikeout.
Aptos drew first blood in the top of the fourth inning. With no score, two runners in scoring position and two outs, right fielder Tyler Raymond came through in a big way. Raymond sent a 1-2 pitch bouncing off of the center-field fence. The stand-up double brought in both runners and gave Eichhorn some much need support.
But Aptos did not hold the lead for long. In the bottom of the inning, Harlem’s cleanup man Alibay Barkley roped a solo homer to left, pulling his team within one run. Three batters later, Andrew Diaz crushed a home run of his own. Diaz’s towering 240-foot drive brought in Fernando Frias, giving Harlem its first lead of the game.
“My coach told me to put my head down and expect a curve ball,” Barkley said of his home run. “It was a fastball, so I went with the pitch and just hit it really good. I did keep my head down, though.”
Harlem extended its lead in the bottom half of the fifth inning. Jeremy Lopez hit the second two-run homer of the game, giving his team a 5-2 advantage heading into the final inning of play.
“We made three mistakes tonight,” Aptos manager Dave Anderson said. “They were all fastballs.
“Harlem is a great fastball-hitting team, and we gave them pitches to hit out of the park.”
Aptos threatened in its final at-bat. Still trailing 5-2, Brian Godoy was at the plate as the tying run. But with the count full, Lopez blew a fastball by him to seal the victory for Harlem.