The PenCities White Sox were 90 feet away from the Palomino League World Series.
But the mission of reaching the big dance in Laredo, Texas — the goal of this 18-and-under dream team since Day One — fell short of being realized, as the White Sox were overcome 10-7 in extra innings by host MLB Academy in the West Zone Tournament finals at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
“You have such a great season with all these highs, and the lows are shocking when they happen because they just don’t happen very often,” White Sox manager Lenny Souza said. “These kids had a great season. I thought they deserved to go to the World Series. And we’re crushed.”
The one-game championship showdown featured some big swings on the scoreboard. The White Sox jumped out to a 4-0 lead after two innings, but Academy rallied back to take a 7-5 lead into the seventh inning. In the bottom of the seventh, the White Sox rallied to tie it on a bases-loaded walk by Noah Marcelo.
“The whole team, 1 thru 9, they put their best at-bats of the season out there,” White Sox slugger Jordan Brandenburg said. “We really left everything out there those last few innings.”
But with the bases loaded and two outs, Brandenburg grounded out to shortstop to end the seventh-inning threat, sending the game to extra innings. Academy answered with three runs in the top of the eighth, which proved to be the difference.
The White Sox outhit Academy 12-11, with Brandenburg, Kasi Pohahau and Kevin Jacobs totaling three hits apiece.
“We hit well,” Souza said. “Twelve hits is a lot of hits. I felt like it was good enough to win.”
With its fourth game in four days, PenCities turned to untested starting pitcher Nathan Peng. The right-hander has been dynamite in relief all season with the best sheer velocity on the team. Despite giving up six earned runs between the third and fourth innings, Peng found his footing for a gutsy performance, totaling six innings while allowing six runs on eight hits and a walk, while striking out five.
“In the bullpen, to be honest, he was kind of wild,” White Sox catcher Elliot Biagini said. “But I think it was the (bullpen) mound, because when he got out in the game he was really locating.”
Getting strike calls was another issue, according to Souza. PenCities’ skipper said Peng was not getting the outside corner, while Academy’s pitchers were. Souza’s frustrations for his starting pitcher carried over to the whole dugout, he said.
“I felt like Nate had more command today than he did all year,” Souza said. “And it was like he just wasn’t getting the calls early. We were all frustrated for him.”
Still, the White Sox jumped out to an early lead, knocking out Academy starting pitcher Tyler Tilton in the second inning.
In the first, Pohahau got PenCities on the board with an RBI double, followed by an RBI single by Jacobs. In the second, the White Sox doubled their lead. After a leadoff home run by Mitchell Plane to straightaway left field, Brandenburg produced an RBI single to drive home Jaxon Skidmore, giving PenCities a 4-0 lead.
Academy rallied back in the third to tie it, though, with the big swing of the bat coming on a two-run double by James Espalin to knot it up at 4-4. Then in the fourth, Jonathan Robinson clubbed a two-run homer to give Academy a 6-4 lead. And it wouldn’t be Robinson’s last round-tripper of the day.
With Academy reliever Cole Kitchen cruising — he ultimately went 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk, while striking out seven — PenCities finally scratched out a run against him in the sixth. After Plane got hit by a pitch, and Marcelo drew a two-out walk, Brandenburg produced an RBI single to close the deficit to 6-5.
In the top of the seventh, Academy added an insurance run on an RBI double by James Williams (4 for 5 with two doubles and an RBI) but the White Sox battled back to prolong their season. Pohahau led off with a single and Jacobs reached on an error. Then with one out, Plane singled home Pohahau to close it to 7-6. With two outs, Biagini singled to load the bases. Then Marcelo walked to force home Jacobs with the tying run.
“I’ll be honest with you, at that moment I thought we were going to the World Series,” Souza said.
Brandenburg stepped to the plate looking for something he could drive. But the first pitch was off-speed and got him on his front foot, causing him to roll over to the shortstop for a routine grounder to end the threat, sending the game to extra innings.
Still, Souza said his team was in a good place emotionally.
“We were pretty fired up,” Souza said. “We thought we were going to win at that point and then the first guy comes up and hits a home run.”
Sure enough, Robinson jumped on the first pitch of the eighth in Skidmore’s second inning of relief and drove it out of the park for a go-ahead solo home run.
Then, a disputed call at third base opened the door for two more runs. With runners at first and second and one out, Noel Soto hit a fly ball to Marcelo in center. The runner at second, Sean Blandino, tagged to go to third. But as the relay throw from Marcelo, to the shortstop Plane, to Peng at third was there in time to peg Blandino, the umpire ruled Peng missed the tag, according to Souza.
“He was clearly out,” Souza said. “[The umpire] said there was no tag but that was b—s—. We were really upset. It was a tough way to go out.”
For the White Sox, it was a historic season. The PONY Palomino 18U team reached the West Zone tourney for the second straight season, the first time it has ever advanced as far in back-to-back seasons.
“The entire season it was pretty smooth sailing,” Brandenburg said. “Our team has a lot of guys on it from a lot of the local high schools and we were just super hot all season.”
MLB Academy now advances to the Palomino World Series, beginning Aug. 2 in Laredo, Texas.
The White Sox finish their season with a 29-6 overall record.
“It’s just hard to end this way,” Souza said.
Tag(s): 18+ White Sox (College)