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Tahoe Emeralds eliminated at U.S. Open

Dave Price

GARDNERVILLE – Experience and maturity nearly carried the Tahoe Emeralds into the gold medal round of the 14th U.S. Open amateur baseball tournament.

But then the pitching ran out against the offensive-laden Sacramento A’s on Sunday afternoon at Lampe Park.

The A’s scored nine runs in the first two innings and never looked back on their way to an 18-8 victory over the Emeralds in a showdown to decide first-place in Division II.

By winning, the A’s improved their tournament record to 3-0 and became the first team to advance to the U.S. Open final four, which will be staged this coming Sunday.

Darin Foust hit a three-run homer in the top of the first inning, but the Emeralds’ pitching was unable to contain a Sacramento lineup led by Long Beach State product Shawn Veronie (3 for 3), Jim McFarland (2 for 4 with two RBIs, 10 for 14 in three games) and Josh Olsen (1 for 2 with a home run and five RBIs).

San Jose State’s James Peterson pitched the five-inning distance, allowing 10 hits, to pick up the win.

Tom Wisemman hit 3 for 3 and Adam Heggen, who just graduated from South Tahoe High, was 2 for 4 with two RBIs for the Emeralds.

Sparked by veterans like Matt Konopisos, Tommy Mitchell and Shawn Barton, the Emeralds won their first two tournament games.

The Emeralds opened Friday with an 11-7 victory against Sacramento-based International Baseball Academy, a club managed by former major- leaguer Leon Lee.

Saturday, 30-year-old Foust homered twice and the father-son pitching combo of Doug and Jason Diaz helped Tahoe chalk up its second victory.

Give credit to the old guys.

“We want to showcase the kids, they’re the ones with the future,” Emeralds manager Gary Shidaker said. “But when it comes to crunch time, our veterans are the anchor of the team.”

Konopisos, 34, who formerly played in the Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres organizations, hit a two-run homer in the first inning Friday to give the Emeralds a lead they never relinquished. Barton, 35, formerly with the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners organizations, hit 3 for 5 and had a hand in turning two double plays from his shortstop position. Barton also had three hits on Saturday.

“Shawn has been our MVP all year,” Shidaker said. “He’s Mr. Reliable. Today, he hit cleanup, but he’ll hit anywhere in the lineup we need him, and he’s always a steadying force in the infield.”

Konopisos, who has hit 12 home runs in his last 11 games, is finishing his season on a mission.

“My mom has just been diagnosed with liver cancer, so I’ve kind of dedicated the end of the season to her,” said Konopisos, a product of Alvin, Texas, (Nolan Ryan’s hometown). “She wanted to come see me play today, she couldn’t make it … so I’m going down to Stanford to be with her tonight.”

Chris Kahl, who played at the University of Nevada this spring, hit 3 for 4, drove in two runs and made two sparkling catches in center field for the Emeralds.

The Emeralds rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to win.

“It was a good team win. We played solid ball, did the little things that win games,” Shidaker said. “It was a fun game, from the 18-year-olds to the 40-year-olds.”

Doug Diaz, who will turn 40 next week, struck out five and walked none as he worked the first three innings in his longest outing since graduating from North Tahoe High School more than 20 years ago. His son, Jason, a North Tahoe grad who now plays at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, came on to throw the final six innings and allowed only two runs to go with three strikeouts and one walk.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a father and son pitch together in the same game,” Shidaker said. “Doug threw an inning or two for us in the Casey Stengel league, but this was his first start for us.

“I was especially happy for Jason,” Shidaker went on. “He’s been my hard-uck pitcher this summer. He’s pitched well, but he’s been hurt by the untimely pitch or untimely error. Today, he threw six quality innings.”

Foust, 30, who formerly played in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, homered to lead off the fourth inning and Chris Barna added another solo shot as Tahoe rallied to tie the score 3-3. Then in the seventh, Foust slammed a two-run homer to break a 6-6 tie and put the Emeralds on top to stay.

“Other than Konopisos, he’s been as hot a hitter as I’ve had,” Shidaker said of Foust.

Again, experience does have its benefits.

“There’s no substitute for that pro experience,” Shidaker said. “There’s not many signs to give, they know what to do. They know when to swing for the downs and when to hit behind the runner. They’ll even lay down a bunt if I ask them to.”

Mitchell, the brother of major league slugger Kevin Mitchell, is a standout in his own right. The third baseman missed Friday’s game because he had to work but delivered three hits on Saturday.

“Tommy is my infield captain and a good influence on the kids, not to mention a great hitter,” Shidaker said.

The Emeralds, 27-16, will try to defend their Casey Stengel League title starting Tuesday in Reno. They play Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Moana Stadium in the double-elimination tournament.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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