Arcadia wins District 6 Championship in extra-inning thriller

Arcadia's Nathan Pankow pitches to North Scottsdale's Matthew Graf (Photo by Justin Maskulinski)

Arcadia’s Nathan Pankow pitches to North Scottsdale’s Matthew Graf (Photo by Justin Maskulinski)

Arcadia won the Arizona District 6 Little League Championship 16-5 Thursday night in a nine-inning instant-classic. In a game that lasted nearly three hours, both Arcadia and runner-up North Scottsdale left it all out on the field.

“It feels great to be a champion,” Arcadia’s Caél Herrera said. “I thought we were in trouble when we trailed in the sixth inning, but we came up clutch. It’s a great feeling.”

Arcadia eventually came out on top, but it was not until the top of the ninth inning that they took their first lead of the game.

The game

The game started in a sloppy way for Arcadia, as they failed to score in the top of the first and then allowed three runs in the bottom half of the inning as Easton Lay, Cole Burleson and Ryan Klotnia all scored for the Rocketmen to give their team a 3-0 lead after one.

Arcadia also had three errors in the opening frame.

“We weren’t playing good baseball in that first inning,” Arcadia manager Jeff Wasson said. “Then they started settling in and playing a little bit better. We got out of a couple jams and we chipped away at (Ryan) Klotnia.”

Ryan started the game for North Scottsdale and pitched four innings, surrendering two runs on three hits while striking out eight batters.

In the top of the second inning, Arcadia starting pitcher Nathan Pankow scored the first Arcadia run of the evening. Nathan smacked a ball to left field and it one-hopped over the fence for a ground-rule double. After stealing third base on a wild pitch, Nathan was batted in by shortstop Crew Edwards.

The second-to-last Arcadia batter of the inning sent a shot right back at Ryan Klotnia, hitting him square in the right hip and visibly giving him instant discomfort. After a moment to gather himself, Ryan stayed in the game.

“I’m proud of him, he’s a gamer. He doesn’t get down and he likes to battle,” Mr. Klotnia said of his son. “As a dad, as a coach, as a manager— I was really proud of him.”

North Scottsdale was held scoreless by the Arcadia defense in the bottom of the second and the Rocketmen led 3-1.

Nixon Nolan scored the lone run in the third inning as Arcadia continued to chip away at the North Scottsdale lead.

In the top of the fourth inning, Ryan Klotnia sat down the Arcadia batters in order to end his night on the mound. North Scottsdale was able to reach base in the bottom of the fourth inning, but left two men stranded as Arcadia’s Kellen Slade forced Jackson Holmes to ground out to end the inning.

Nixon Nolan drew a walk to open the top of the fifth inning and then stole second and third base on wild pitches. Arcadia first baseman Scotty Wheeler grounded out to shortstop Jackson Holmes while Nixon crossed home plate to tie the game at three.

North Scottsdale answered in the bottom of the fifth inning, as right fielder Sebastian Mentis crushed a ball to the right-center wall for a two-RBI double that scored Nolan Lopez and Tony Clifford to give the Rocketmen a 5-3 lead heading into the sixth inning.

The Arcadia team rushes out to home plate to greet Scotty Wheeler (1) after he hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning. (Photo by Justin Maskulinski)

The Arcadia team rushes out to home plate to greet Scotty Wheeler (1) after he hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth inning. (Photo by Justin Maskulinski)

Arcadia stepped up to the plate in the top of the sixth inning knowing it needed two runs to keep its chances of victory alive.

The first batter of the inning was Crew Edwards, who sent a low line drive to second base, where North Scottsdale’s Monty Gibson made a diving catch for the first out of the inning.

The second Arcadia batter struck out, leaving Arcadia with just one out to spare and still in need of two runs to tie the game. Jacob Lara stepped up to the plate and sent a ground ball up the middle for a two-out single.

The next batter up for Arcadia was Kellen Slade. When Kellen came to the plate in the top of the sixth inning, his stat line for the game was 0-3, three strikeouts— Kellen was one of many big hitters for Arcadia throughout the tournament.

True to form, he took the first pitch he saw out of the park to left-center field to tie the game at five.

“It felt good to hit the tying home run,” Kellen said during the post-game celebration. He finished the game 1-5 with the game-tying home run and two RBIs.

Mr. Wasson was happy to see Kellen get back into a groove after struggling.

“Obviously he was looking a little wobbly out there,” Mr. Wasson said. “We just kept telling him to stay at it. He got something out over the plate and it doesn’t take much to get the ball out of this park.”

North Scottsdale failed to score in the bottom of the sixth inning, forcing the game to go into extra innings.

In the top of the seventh inning, Arcadia’s bats were temporarily silenced, as they went down in order.

In the bottom half of the seventh, North Scottsdale was able to move a runner, Monty Gibson, to third base before he was tagged out near home plate after getting caught in a pickle. The Rocketmen failed to score in the inning, leaving one runner stranded on base.

In the eighth inning, it was Arcadia’s turn to get on base, as Nathan Pankow led off the inning with a grounder to right field. Arcadia’s winning pitcher, Crew Edwards, continued the hitting trend as he sent a dribbler into left field to place runners on first and second with nobody out.

The next batter, Ryan Spier, bunted the ball to pitcher Easton Lay, who made a smart play and threw for the force out at third base. Jacob Lara loaded the bases for Arcadia when he drew a walk.

With three ducks on the pond and only one out, Kellen Slade flew out to second base for the second out of the half inning. Nixon Nolan approached the plate with the bases still loaded and was stuck out by Easton to end the top of the eighth.

The bottom of the eighth inning was dominated by Crew Edwards, who faced four batters and struck out two to force a ninth inning.

In the top of the ninth inning Scotty Wheeler was the first up to bat for Arcadia and he got the ball rolling with what would become a game-winning solo yak to left-center field.

“It was good to hit the go-ahead home run,” Scotty said. “We had trouble in the first couple of innings and then we started hitting.”
Scotty finished the game 2-5 with a double, a home run and five RBIs.

The next three Arcadia batters reached base, and Carter Hain scored on a passed-ball-strikeout by Nathan Pankow, who reached first base after the passed ball.

With two runners on and nobody out, Crew was the next man up. He helped his cause on the mound as he slapped a three-run jack to right-center field to give Arcadia a 10-5 lead with nobody out.

Seven Arcadia batters and multiple hits and runs later, Caél Herrera air-mailed a three-run home run to right center to increase the Arcadia lead to 16-5.

“I just started running because I didn’t want it to hit the fence or something,” Caél said. “It felt great.”

Crew returned to the mound for Arcadia in the bottom of the ninth inning and retired three of the four batters he faced.

“I just wanted to go out there and win,” Crew said. “They had a lot of good kids like Klotnia and Holmes and they were unable to hit me tonight.”

Crew’s breaking balls left North Scottsdale batters shaking their heads and mistiming their swings. He finished the game with four and 2/3 innings pitched, zero runs allowed, five hits allowed and eight strikeouts.

Team celebrations. (Photo by Justin Maskulinski)

Team celebrations. (Photo by Justin Maskulinski)

Next stop: Claypool, AZ

After winning the District 6 Championship, Arcadia clinched a spot in the Arizona State Little League Tournament, hosted by Pinal Mountain Little League in Claypool, Ariz.

Arcadia hopes to represent District 6 well as they face off against Arizona’s best.

“There’s going to be a lot of hard teams but we’ll play our best and try to win,” Scotty said.

Mr. Wasson says the team will face its toughest challenge yet.

“This has been a work in progress,” Mr. Wasson said. “We have some physical ability and we can pitch and play defense. You never know out there. Every team is like you, they all can play the game. We’ll go out there and take it one day at a time and try to win a couple more games.”

For now, Arcadia will enjoy their district championship, but they feel the way they won Thursday’s game will help them moving forward.

“It feels great to be a champion,” Crew said. “It’s the next step towards Williamsport…We just need to keep at it because we know there are going to be close games at the state tournament.”

The State Tournament begins July 16 and runs through July 24.

Scottsdale Independent Sports Correspondent Justin Maskulinski can be contacted at jmaskulinski@newszap.com. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/Maskulinski.

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