For the past two seasons, the Santa Clara Westside 11-12-year-old All Stars have beaten Santa Clara Briarwood en route to winning the District 44 Championship. This year, it is Briarwood who looks far more like the Bronx Bombers. Briarwood didn’t hit any bombs Tuesday night, but made quick work of Westside with an 11-1 thumping to improve to 3-0 in pool play. Sage Romero threw all four innings in the 10-run rule game and added a scoring double off the left field fence to boot.
“My fastball was working. I didn’t feel like anyone could touch it,” said Romero, whose biggest scare on the mound came in the first inning. Westside had the bases loaded and nobody out, but Romero induced the cleanup hitter into a double play. “Great play by [shortstop] Toby [Esqueda]. That definitely calmed me down knowing I might only need to make one more quality pitch to get out of the inning.”
Romero would get out of the inning allowing just the one run. It was a key bounce back considering his offense gave him a three-run cushion in the top of the inning. From there on out, Romero was in cruise control.
“Sage was great today. He’s a great kid,” praised Briarwood Manager Carlos Escobedo. “I’ve coached him in the past and today is probably the best I’ve seen him do all year. He’s just a gamer, he knew this was a big game for us.”
Romero certainly knew his history of how Briarwood has fared against Westside in recent seasons.
“It’s a great feeling to beat them,” noted Romero. “Especially after how they knocked our twelves out of the playoffs, so getting some revenge is a great feeling.”
Briarwood scored their 11 runs without much in the way of loud contact from the big boys in their lineup. Esqueda and Jacob Benson batting fourth and fifth respectively were held in check. They both picked up RBIs in the first inning, but neither picked up an extra-base hit. The depth showed for Briarwood with Justin Forster picking up a pair of infield hits, while Mateo Escobedo, Jacob Smith and Andrew Traffas all added solid singles.
In the other dugout, there was simply not much in the way of any solid contact, as Romero kept Westside off balance.
“He wasn’t the fastest pitcher, but he was smart with his pitches, he hit his spots, was locating the ball really well,” admitted Westside center fielder Zach Kwon. “We just struggled to adjust.”
“I was just trying to hit it to the right side, stay back on the ball,” remarked shortstop Charles Conley. “But he just kept jamming us and we couldn’t get many hits.”
It wasn’t as if Westside was making many mistakes on the defensive side of the ball. Briarwood hitters were just coming up with timely hits and using their speed to their advantage. In fact, the best defensive play of the day for either team was when Westside third baseman Mason Gonzalez stayed with a tricky hop on a hard hit ball that came up to his belt. He secured it without a bobble and made a strong throw to first base, to get the runner by a step, to end the fourth inning and keep another Briarwood run off the board.
“That was a great play by Mason, stayed in front of it and got it over the first baseman,” remarked Westside Manager Charles Conley. “That was a heckuva play.”
As for his team’s overall performance, Manager Conley remarked that his team can and will do better in their upcoming games.
“I was happy to see that we did at least answer back in the first inning, but that was a tough way to do it,” said Manager Conley. “The double play was hit basically in the only place that they could turn a double play. We have two more games to go and we will be okay. Things just got off track today. It wasn’t our game, they know they can play better. I’ve seen them play better and against better pitchers. We have two more games here to keep getting after it.”
Both teams will next play on Thursday, June 27. Briarwood will host Sunnyvale National as they seek to finish pool play undefeated and earn the top seed heading into the elimination tournament. Westside meanwhile takes on Sunnyvale Metro in their attempt to bounce back and get in the win column. Even if they win their final two games, Westside will likely not end up qualifying for the final four.
Briarwood, on the other hand, is almost all but assured a spot in the final four double-elimination tournament for the District 44 bracket. The top two teams in each pool division advance to play each other. The top team in the A division will play the second place team in the B division and vice versa until a winner is crowned to move on representing District 44 in the Section-5 tournament.
In 2017, Westside was just one win away from winning Section-5, while their opponent needed to beat them twice to move on. Unfortunately for Santa Clara fans, Westside would lose two in a row, failing to advance to the NorCal tournament.
There is still a long way to go here in 2019, but could it be Briarwood’s year this season to go all the way to get to Section-5 and possibly win it? Only time will tell, but with Forster, Romero, Esqueda, Benson, Escobedo, Smith and Traffas, Briarwood has a deep batting order. On the mound, Esqueda and Benson are absolute flame throwers to go along with Romero’s dart-throwing capabilities. Plenty of hitting and plenty of pitching for Briarwood.