Fernando Alaniz was nearly untouchable from the pitcher’s mound on Thursday, and he didn’t miss a bat in his hands.
The Northgate Little League Orioles standout burned the Dodgers for 11 strikeouts in a two-hit gem and broke a scoreless tie in the top of the sixth with a three-run homer that highlighted a 4-0 victory, forcing a winner-take-all major-division final to be played tonight at Gillen Field.
It will be seventh meeting of the season between the two clubs, with the victor earning a spot in the District 67 Tournament of Champions hosted by Lathrop Little League starting June 16.
The Orioles entered the postseason with a 16-0 record but lost to the Dodgers 7-6 last Saturday in the winners-bracket semifinal.
There will be one more chance to settle the score thanks to Alaniz, who needed just 68 pitches to complete the game. Two infield errors allowed the Dodgers to get runners on base in the third and fifth innings, but they didn’t get their hits until the sixth when Seth Baker and Noah Calmes each singled.
Third baseman Leland Crabb helped preserve the shutout by snagging a sharp line drive off the bat of Zach Grabowski for the final out.
The Orioles missed an opportunity to break the tie in the second when Alaniz led off with a double but was left stranded on third. Grabowski escaped the jam with an infield pop-up, strikeout and grounder.
Alaniz also singled in the fourth, but the Orioles didn’t get another runner in scoring position until the sixth.
Junior Rosas doubled to spark the decisive rally, and George Mendoza reached while moving the lead runner with a well-placed bunt. That set up Alaniz’s impressive no-doubt shot to left field.
The Orioles tacked on another run when Crabb’s hit to center field was dropped, allowing Grant Sonke — he reached on an error and was followed by Andrew Guzman’s single — to score from second base.
Grabowski started on the bump for the Dodgers and did his part in the one-hour, 10-minute pitcher’s duel, striking out nine while scattering seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. Calmes fanned the last two batters in the sixth, and no batters were walked in the contest.