Giants cap perfect season with 11-5 win
Special to the Tribune
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Every season ends with a championship won. A special few, however, are the stuff of legend. And this year, 2010, at Todd Fields, the Marine Performance Giants completed what might be a first in the South Lake Babe Ruth League.
Andrew Noll and Cody Higgins combined to scatter 10 hits while their teammates exploded for an 8-run fifth inning to topple the Laub & Laub Red Sox 11-5. The victory clinched their second straight Babe Ruth League playoff title. And, coupled with their unbeaten regular season, the Giants finished the year a perfect 18-0.
“I’m still a little in shock,” said Manager Kevin Higgins in a phone interview a full two hours after the game, loud and happy voices heard clearly in the background. “My first thought was how proud I am and how happy I am for the boys. Through ups and downs, they’ve always supported each other.”
Like many of the Giants’ wins, this one didn’t come easy. Kris DiGrande led off the game with an infield single for the Sox, then scored after a walk and an error to put the Giants down 1-0 in the first inning.
The lead held after a tense second inning, each side leaving the bases loaded without scoring. Giants left-fielder Hayden Bronken made some key catches while center fielder Dakota Lynch matched him for the Red Sox, showing Ashburn-like range.
In the third, Robbie Poet uncorked a 2-run triple and the Sox extended their lead to 3-0. Over the first three innings, the Giants had two hits from Bronken, but little else to show for their efforts against All-Star pitcher Cory Plummer.
In the fourt, things started to work for the Giants. Third-sacker Liam Loftis sparkled defensively, handling three chances cleanly and the Sox were retired in order. Giants at bat: Jaedon Clelan walked and later scored on a John Cefalu double. An error, another walk and a two-RBI single by Noll, and the Giants had tied the game, 3-3.
But the Red Sox weren’t done. In the fifth, Hunter Morgan hustled an infield single and Dom Diana walked. Then Avery Laub plated them both with a double to left, and the Sox led again 5-3.
The home half of the fifth brought the Giants back for good. Loftis walked, and back-to-back singles from Bobby Gonzales and Jason Rogers loaded the bases. The Red Sox then committed four consecutive infield errors before Noll delivered a coupe-de-gras triple to right center, later scoring on an infield out. Suddenly it was 11-5 Giants, and their championship came six outs later.
The difference for the Giants was their defense, turning two double plays and committing only one error for the game. The final Red Sox threat was snuffed in the sixth inning when Higgins snagged a Plummer line drive and doubled off a Sox runner to end the inning.
All season long, the Giants ran the gauntlet on their unbeaten run. As defending champions from the 2009 season, they were marked from the beginning as the team to beat. But they were able to turn back the opposition every time. On opening day they overcame a 10-2 deficit against Lew Mar Nel’s Dodgers to squeak out an 11-10 win.
Late in the regular season, the Bay Products Padres ambushed the Giants and took them into extra innings before falling 7-6. And the Red Sox always played the Giants tough, leading at one point or another in all five of their encounters.
“Our games against the Red Sox (were) quality baseball,” Higgins said.
Meanwhile the question of whether a perfect Babe Ruth League season had been achieved before remains, for the time being, unanswered.
“Not in my 12 years,” replied Umpire in Chief Don Amaral to an email inquiry.
An informal poll taken of other old-timers yielded only shrugs and shaken heads. Babe Ruth Baseball is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“There might have been a team in ’89,” mused Jack Francis, who coached Babe Ruth teams in the ’70s and ’80s. But he couldn’t say for sure.
“I coached some teams that won championships, the Yankees, but we lost games,” he said.
In assessing their success, Higgins insists “it’s about the team. They did everything I asked of them.”
But team sponsor Rudy Gonzales, owner of Marine Performance and Gonzales’ dad, credits at least some of the Giants’ good fortune to his autographed “Gigantes” jersey, which he wore again on Championship night.
“Never lost while I’ve worn it,” he said, grinning.
With little brother Joe Gonzales coming into the league next year, it could be a very long wait for opponents of the South Tahoe Babe Ruth League Giants.