LIVERMORE, Calif. — The Highlander Youth Recreation 50/70 team is three wins from a world title.
After triumphing in its first two games of the Intermediate World Series, HYR will face fellow unbeaten McCalla (Ala.) at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday night in the U.S. semifinals in Livermore, Calif.
“The boys have just played incredible baseball since we’ve been out here, it’s been going really well,” HYR coach Rich Moravec said. “I think we’ve opened up some eyes in our first couple games. The Central [Region] has never really fared well in this tournament. I’m not sure, but I think our two wins are the first two wins for the Central in tournament play since this tournament has been going on. And we beat two giants.”
HYR topped West Region champ Petaluma (Calif.) American 9-3 in its first game Sunday night at Max Baer Park behind a big game for Justin Early, who picked up the win on the mound with five strikeouts in five innings and also helped the HYR cause with five RBIs at the plate.
Monday night, HYR faced host Livermore/Granada (Calif.).
“We were real nervous going into the game,” Moravec said. “The stands were packed, it was an incredible environment. There was probably 2,500 people there. The stadium was rocking, and our boys handled the pressure really well."
They also had to contend with hard-throwing Livermore/Granada pitcher Andres Duarte.
“They had probably the best pitcher I’ve ever seen for a 13-year-old,” Moravec said. “He looked like he was 16 and he threw as hard as a high school pitcher from 10 feet shorter — he was throwing 80 miles an hour from 50 feet.”
HYR scored the game’s first run, thanks to an error, in the top of the second. However, Livermore/Granada answered with one of its own in the bottom of the inning.
Thanks to the pitching of Duarte and HYR’s Clayton Schroeder, the game remained 1-1 until the top of the seventh inning.
That’s when Alex Schuler singled — only HYR’s second hit to that point — down the right-field line. Pinch-runner Peyton Durham, who scored HYR’s first run, then moved to second on a passed ball before scoring on Early’s single down the third-base line.
In the bottom of the inning Masen Moravec, who relieved Schroeder in the bottom of the sixth and promptly got out of a two-on, two-out jam, sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a groundout to pick up the win on the mound for HYR.
"[It] was a huge stage and our kids handled it really well," Coach Moravec, Masen's father, said.
Schroeder finished with 10 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings while Duarte fanned a dozen for Livermore/Granada.
The win earned HYR a date with Southeast Region champ McCalla tonight. McCalla has won its first two games by a combined score of 31-10.
“They look really solid,” Moravec said of McCalla. “They're huge — they have some big hitters, big strong pitchers. … Hopefully we can keep it pretty low-scoring and are able to manufacture some runs. The boys have been stingy on defense and with their pitching and have come through in the clutch on offense.”
If HYR comes through with a win tonight it will advance to the U.S. final, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday night. If it loses tonight, HYR will play an elimination game at 9 p.m. Thursday night. The winner of that one will also advance to Saturday night’s U.S. final.
“So we have two chances to get to the U.S. championship game, which for a small Little League like this would be quite an accomplishment,” Moravec said.
The World Series final is scheduled for 9 p.m. Sunday night.
Thanks to its first two wins, HYR had a game-free day Tuesday so most of the squad spent time sight-seeing in nearby San Francisco.
“It’s been pretty much more than what we expected it to be," Moravec said via cell phone during that sight-seeing trip. "The boys are having a great time.
“Our boys have taken everything in stride. As a coach it’s been great to see. It’s been a pleasure to coach this group.”