By Tom Price Jr.
On Sunday, the District 34 Champion Visalia National Little League was crowned after defeating Porterville 10-0 in the Championship game. But it was the fireworks the night before that still had people talking.
In a losers bracket game to determine who would face Visalia National for the championship, Exeter and Porterville played in a see saw battle that took eight innings and nearly two and a half hours to decide. Porterville would eventually win 8-5 on an extra inning home run off the bat of Aaron Gray. It was the second time the teams met in the tournament and the second time it took extra frames to settle the score.
In the seventh inning it appeared Porterville was going to break the 5-5 tie when Zac Schuler singled up the middle and Gray was waved home from second base. But Exeter center fielder Justin Griffee came up firing and threw a one-hop strike to catcher Dylan Watson who applied the tag for the second out of the inning.
"I was pretty nervous and excited when I saw the ball coming," Watson said. "I was sure we had him."
Exeter pitcher Lance Van Grouw then walked the next hitter to load the bases. Van Grouw was able to get Porterville's Austin Albison to reach for an outside pitch, chopping the ball five feet in front of home plate. Watson emerged from his crouch snatching the ball from the air deciding to dive for home plate instead of making the throw to first. His glove landed on the plate just ahead of a sliding Zac Aguilar.
Exeter wasn't without it's own missed opportunities. In the bottom of the sixth inning Exeter's Chase Madden fought back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk and one out later was moved to second on a single by Watson. Andrew Grey then hit a bouncer that was fielded by the Porterville catcher Haydon Doyle who threw him out at first by one step from his knees. Griffee then flew out end the inning.
In the fifth inning Griffee tried to score from third base on a passed ball but was tagged out. Exeter would threaten again later in the inning loading the bases only to have Chewy Marquez strikeout.
Exeter carried a 5-4 lead into the fifth inning after Madden forced a bases loaded walk that scored Souza. But Porterville evened the score after the night's most controversial play. With Aaron Gray at first Aguilar grounded into what appeared to be an inning ending double play. But the second base umpire said that Exeter second baseman AJ Tobias pulled his foot off the bag before turning and firing to first. Porterville capitalized on the mistake the very next at bat when Woody Wallace laced an RBI double into left centerfield.
"That's baseball. Your not always going to get the calls you just have to deal with it," Exeter coach Randy Van Grouw said. "We had our chances and we just didn't covert them, that's the way it goes sometimes."
The game actually began the way it ended with a first inning blast to left field from Aaron Gray that helped stake Porterville to a 3-0 lead in the first inning.
But Exeter responded in the second inning with singles from Andrew Gray, Souza, Van Grouw and Tobias. Marquez then followed with the big blast, a two run double that tied the game at three.
Souza rebounded from his shaky first inning to throw six innings allowing just four hits and five runs. In relief Van Grouw threw two innings allowing three hits and three runs.
Exeter beat Porterville 3-2 in a seven-inning thriller to open the tournament then followed with a thrilling 8-7 win over Delano before losing 10-0 to the eventual champions Visalia National.