The Santa Clara Red Sox opened the Palomino League World Series Thursday with a thriller that Michael Jackson would have appreciated. With runners at second and third and just one out in the bottom of the ninth, Wilcox senior Jarrett Chapman blooped a single into shallow right center, igniting ringing cheers from the Santa Clara supporters. Red Sox players poured onto the field to jump on Chapman between first and second base. The RBI single gave the Red Sox a 4-3 victory over the Texas Stars.
Santa Clara would take an early lead in this one when cleanup-hitting left fielder Matt Johnson waited nicely on a curveball in the first inning. He then crushed it over the left-field fence for a two-run homer.
“When Ben [Townsend] flew out to right on a curveball right before me, he came back and said the guy’s curveball is easy to pick up,” recalled Johnson. “So I had curveball in the back of my mind. He hung one, I swung hard and it went out.”
Johnson would add a sharp single later in the game, but the MIT student is far from a one-trick pony. He showed off his wheels in the outfield, holding a runner to a single on a ball hit down the line and beat out an infield single in the eighth.
“He’s the total package,” commented Red Sox Head Coach Chuck Blair. “He was an honorable mention All-American at MIT as a freshman. MIT is division three baseball, but they are a very good league. He’s a super smart kid, and as you could see he can do both [hit for power and use his wheels]. It’s impressive, he’s an all-around player.”
The Red Sox would give back a run in the second inning when starting pitcher Andrew Casselman allowed four-straight singles. Casselman however, didn’t allow a single extra-base hit through his eight innings of work, scattering mostly weak contact.
“That stuff happens,” admitted Casselman on the four-straight hits. “If you’re gonna let someone beat you, let them beat you with four-straight hits rather than four-straight walks and then a hit.”
Casselman utilized an impressive curveball to steal strikes, while keeping the Texas hitters off-balance with a two-seam fastball and changeup.
“He was never in trouble,” noted coach Blair. “The inning they scored the two runs, that was with two outs and we made back-to-back errors. He kept them off-balance. They got a bunch of dink hits, but he scattered them around and only gave up one earned run.”
Outside of Johnson, another notable offensive performance in support of Casselman came via Connor Shiamoto. The designated hitter picked up a pair of walks to go along with a leadoff double to the opposite-field gap in the second. He would score later in the inning, extending Santa Clara’s lead to 3-1.
“It was a full count and I was seeing the pitches pretty well,” described Shiamoto on his leadoff double. “I fouled off a couple, just tried to stay short to the ball with two strikes.”
After Texas tied things up in the fifth, the score would remain 3-3 until the bottom of the ninth.
A leadoff walk by Shiamoto and a sharp pinch-hit single by 2017 Santa Clara High graduate Pako Vehikite helped set up Chapman’s heroics. Shortstop Tommy Cruz then moved the runners over, before Chapman’s perfectly-placed Texas leaguer with a drawn-in infield.
“We did the ninth inning a little backwards,” chuckled coach Blair. “Theoretically you get the guy on and you bunt the next guy, but we play this game by feel. I’ve been doing this thirty years. We haven’t won five World Championships by just playing it by the book. You can’t always play by the book. We mixed it up a bit. We came through at the right time. Pretty fortunate though, that ball doesn’t drop if the infield isn’t in.”
Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, the squad would be eliminated from the tournament after losing their next two games to Los Gatos and Mexico. After 30 years of coaching, Blair is calling it a career.