South Tahoe makes memorable run to Babe Ruth state finals | TahoeDailyTribune.com

South Tahoe makes memorable run to Babe Ruth state finals

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

South Tahoe’s 15-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars accomplished something very few local baseball teams ever have.

South Tahoe battled back through the losers’ bracket to win four games before losing to state tournament host Reno West 14-4 Wednesday night in the championship game.

A Babe Ruth team from South Lake Tahoe last won the state championship in 1999 when Dan Hannum’s 16-year-old club claimed state and preliminary regional championships before being ousted in two games at the regionals in Bakersfield, Calif.

In 1989, South Tahoe captured two state championships, winning the 13-year-old and 14/15 divisions. Those teams, who were managed by Steve Mahnken and Kerry David, each won a game at regionals.

To join those memorable teams on a short list of South Tahoe state finalists was quite pleasing to current South Tahoe 15s manager Kevin Higgins.

“We drove to Reno five days in a row and beat teams like Carson City, Sparks and South Reno. There has been a lot of growth, and I’m so proud of the guys,” said Higgins, whose all-stars finished with an 8-2 record in two tournaments. “They were a pretty happy group even in the face of a loss. The coaches and parents know something was accomplished. Hopefully when it sinks in, they will really understand how far we got.”

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After dropping its tournament opener to Reno West 6-2 on Saturday, the format demands of having to play day after day didn’t favor South Tahoe. But South Tahoe took care of business one game at a time before being required to play host Reno West in Wednesday’s finals immediately after outsting South Tahoe 11-10.

“It is what it is, and we just went out and played,” said Higgins, who wasn’t pleased about the doubleheader on Wednesday night. “Friday night’s rainout changed everything.”

Higgins said that he found out on Sunday that the team emerging from the loser’s bracket would be asked to play two games on one night.

While strong pitching performances and big night’s at the plate highlighted some of his team’s wins, Higgins thought it was his club’s overall play in the field that made the difference in so many victories.

“The emphasis we made on defense, making the routine plays, we just consistently did that,” said Higgins, noting that John Cefalu went the distance behind the plate in all of South Tahoe’s tournament games and Ty Sprock played solid at shortstop.

In the win over South Reno to reach the championship game, South Tahoe’s top three hitters combined to score nine runs. Bobby Oakes, the No. 2 hitter, reached base all four times and crossed the plate for four runs; Cody Higgins, the team’s No. 3 hitter, scored all three times he reached bases; and leadoff hitter Sprock scored two of the three times he was on base.

Knocking those baserunners in were Andrew Noll, Tyler Sharp and John Cefalu. Tyler Sharp was 2 for 4 with a double and three RBI; Andrew Noll went 1 for 2 with a walk, sacrifice fly and three RBI; and Cefalu went 1 for 3 with two RBI.

Sharp gave South Tahoe a solid start on the mound, holding South Reno in check through five innings. But South Reno rallied from a six-run deficit to tie the score at 9. South Tahoe didn’t buckle, scoring two more runs to qualify for the finals.

“We still came out and hit. We kept overcoming adversity,” Higgins said.

Reno West reduced South Tahoe’s run production in the championship, even though Oakes went 2 for 3 and Sharp belted a double. Sprock, Higgins, Noll, Wightman and Joey Anderson collected base hits.

South Tahoe used four different pitchers in the 10-run defeat.

Reno West received a championship banner afterward and will move on to the regional tournament in Ukiah, Calif. South Tahoe was supposed to receive a runner-up plaque and individual medallions or trophies for their state feat, but they were not presented on Wednesday night, according to an upset Higgins.

“Those are requirements of the tournament host,” Higgins said. “The district is requiring them to come up with something, but it will not be the same as the boys receiving it on the field last night. They still are deserving.”