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Weston Ranch juniors claim TOC title
Hernandezs walk-off hit completes last-inning comeback
Manuel Rubio chases down teammate Juan Hernandez to celebrate after Hernandez hit the game-winning walk off during the Lathrop Giants 2-1 victory over Salida in the District 67 Junior Division Tournament of Champions at Paul Weston Park Friday night. - photo by JOHN-JOEL GRIFFITHS

WESTON RANCH – Juan Hernandez had been clutch for the Weston Ranch Little League junior division Giants all season.

On Friday, he displayed why.

With runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the seventh – not to mention the District 67 Tournament of Champions final tied – Hernandez connected with a walk-off single that scored Rodrigo Corona for a 2-1 victory over visiting Salida Friday night at Paul Weston Park.

“After he threw the first strike, I was nervous,” said Hernandez, who batted .675 during the Giants’ two-loss regular season. “But everyone was cheering me on, so I knew I had to do something for the team.”

Hernandez did indeed.

He sent a shot to deep right-center field that brought in Corona – an adolescent who has never played baseball prior to joining the Giants this season – for the game-winning score that ignited an apple-cider popping celebration.

“That’s a story-book ending, coming back like that,” said Paul Ostertag, Lathrop’s head skipper. “Especially because we had the bottom of our order coming up.

“We knew (Salida) had two key pitchers and they used one (Thursday) to get here. Getting to their bullpen, if you want to call it that, was a key for us.”

The Giants and Rockies had a pitcher’s duel going.

Salida’s Tyler Mantarbo got the start and Weston Ranch’s Manuel Rubio (nine strikeouts, one walk, two hits) did work for the Giants. Mantarbo got himself into trouble in the first couple of innings, but his defense helped him escape both of those jams.

The Giants loaded the bags up in each of the first two frames, but Salida forced back-to-back 1-2-3 double plays to end both of the first two innings.

The game scoreless through five frames.

The Rockies scored first when Jesse Ernst crossed the plate from third after the Giants’ Larry Martinez threw a passed ball. Martinez entered the game during the sixth frame after Rubio had reached the maximum pitch count of 95

Martinez got the third out on a pop fly that sent the game into the bottom of the sixth inning, where the Giants’ side was retired.

In the top of the seventh, Martinez made more respectable pitches and induced outs in the infield. Giants first baseman Alex Rivera made all three defensive outs in the top of the seventh.

“This group of kids all get along, they all hang out and they all play basketball together and mess around,” Ostertag said. “I think that’s what pulled them together. We rolled through and won four straight, and (Salida) was the team to beat.”

In the bottom of the seventh, Ryan Ostertag led off with a single. After that, Salida’s Montarbo reached his pitch count and was forced to come off the mound.

Gabriel Ramos of the Giants then stepped up and put the ball in play up the middle. Jesus Cordero, a pinch-runner who stole second, was called around third and headed for home. However, Salida’s Ernst made the tag at the plate on Ramos, who was called out and brought Weston Ranch to its final out of the contest.

“The only thing I seen was no tag,” said Rubio, who then registered the game-tying RBI that tied it at one apiece. “It wasn’t really a good call and he wasn’t really at a good angle at the plate.”

The call at the plate caused an eruption, and an ejection, for a Weston Ranch assistant coach. The Giants still rallied despite the drama.

Rubio tied the game with an RBI that scored Ramos, which was followed by the walk off via the second batter in the lineup, Hernandez.