Trailing 4-0 in the second inning against East Long Beach, Pacific Palisades' Bronco all-stars were given a much-needed pep talk by Manager David Howard.
"I just told them 'This is your house, you have six innings left and don't give up," Howard said. "I'm super proud of the way the players responded. Every time they scored we answered and that's the sign of a good team."
Palisades scored five times in the bottom of the second to take the lead, then broke an 8-8 tie with a six-run explosion in the sixth on its way to a 14-10 victory in its opening game of the Pony Baseball Section 1 playoffs Thursday evening at the Palisades Recreation Center's Field of Dreams complex.
The victory earned Palisades a couple of days' relaxation in the six-team, double-elimination tournament. Howard's squad advanced to the quarterfinals and will play at 10 a.m. Sunday against the winner of Friday afternoon's game between Torrance and Santa Monica.
"It's nice not having to play Saturday because it means now we can set up our pitching however we want," Howard said. "If a pitcher goes four innings he needs 40 hours rest, so it's an added reward for winning."
Bronco Division (ages 11-12) tournament games are seven innings. Jason Starrels pitched the first four for Palisades. Adam Snyder worked 1 1/3 innings in relief and William Winkenhower went the final 1 2/3 innings, ending the game with a strikeout.
Palisades led 8-4 through four innings, but East Long Beach scored twice in the fifth and twice in the sixth to pull even. Emmett Collins led off the bottom half with a single, Gabe Stewart followed with a base hit of his own and Starrels walked to load the bases. Collins scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Winkenhower and that opened the floodgates.
Spencer Howard doubled to the gap in left center, Will Bantle and Nick Hurley followed with singles, Matt Ursin-Smith hit a two-run double and suddenly Palisades had a five-run cushion. A passed ball allowed Ursin-Smith to score from third for a 14-8 lead.
East Long Beach plated two runs in the last inning, but they weren't enough to prevent the visitors from dropping down to the loser's bracket, where they will play Redondo Sunset on Saturday morning. Only the champion advances to the Super Region playoffs.
Click here to view the Bronco Section 1 Tournament bracket.
While the Bronco all-stars were lighting up the scoreboard on Field 2, the Pacific Palisades Mustang all-stars were engaged in a tense, low-scoring game on Field 1 against Santa Monica in the District 1 playoffs.
Mustang Division (ages 9-10) games are normally six innings, but the score remained tied 2-2 until the top of the eighth, when Lucas Gordon's fielder's choice grounder to shortstop scored Aydin Gillespie and gave Santa Monica the lead.
With runners on second and third, Santa Monica threatened to tack on more runs, but Palisades reliever Nico Chapus struck out Zane Metz to end the inning.
Palisades was retired in order in the bottom of the eighth.
Ten-year-old Shane Skelly, who threw over 100 strikeouts for the Cardinals in the regular season, went four strong innings on the mound, allowing one run and striking out four.
Bryant Reese pitched the fifth and sixth and Chapus went the last two for Palisades, which dropped to the loser's bracket to face Lynwood at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Field of Dreams.
Chapus' parents are in France to watch his older sister Cami compete in the World Youth Track & Field Championships, but he stayed behind with the babysitter and Palisades Manager Jason Reese praised the youngster's effort.
"Nico was terrific," Reese said. "There's a lot of pressure at that point in the game, but that's the best I've ever seen him pitch."
After Santa Monica got on the board first on a sacrifice grounder in the third inning, Palisades answered in the bottom of the fourth when Will Coquillard singled and pinch runner Jack Sandifer stole second, took third on an error and scored on another error.
Santa Monica took the lead again in the top of the fifth, but Palisades tied it in the bottom frame when Justin Howard singled, took second on a balk, stole third and scored on a grounder by Chapus.
Chapus worked out of trouble in the seventh, striking out Matthew Gutierrez with a runner on second and two outs.
Despite the loss, Manager Jason Reese was pleased with his team's performance.
"It's hard to be disappointed because overall I thought we played a good game," he said. "We played a great team. We just didn't get the timely hits today and they made a couple of great defensive plays."
The top three teams in the District tournament advance to the Sectionals. Click here to view the Mustang District 1 bracket.