Regardless of how the rest of the Moore League baseball season plays out, Friday’s clash between Long Beach Poly (17-5, 7-1) and Millikan (15-4, 6-3) should be remembered for what it was: an emotional, well-played game of baseball. After a slew of terrific plays and unexpected twists and turns, the visiting Jackrabbits emerged with a hard-fought 6-2 win in eight innings to remain solely atop the league standings. Ultimately, the win could prove to be the turning point that helps Poly claim back-to-back Moore League titles for the first time in school history.
For now, players and coaches agreed that Friday’s game between the Jackrabbits and the Rams was one of the best they’d ever been a part of.
“If you’re talking about a single game, pound-for-pound, back and forth, it’s gonna be hard to come up with a game that might top this one,” said Poly head coach Brent Lavoie after the win.
The Jackrabbits were down to their last out in the top of the seventh inning, but were able to tie the game with the bottom of their lineup. After sophomore Lucas Scott reached on an error, senior and nine-hole hitter Kenny Barnabee stepped up and crushed an RBI triple to left that one-hopped off the fence. That ignited a thunderous celebration in the Poly dugout as the Jackrabbits were able to even the score and force extra innings.
“Yeah, it was definitely the best game I’ve ever played in,” said Barnabee after the win. “You know, that was very intense. Everyone was trying to execute, everyone’s trying to get on top. We just never let go of the pedal and we just kept fighting.”
Barnabee was fresh off scoring the opening goal in Poly boys’ soccer’s 3-2 playoff win on Thursday night, and came through again for the Jackrabbits in a clutch moment on the diamond less than 24 hours later.
“I kind of live by ‘You can’t ice ice,’” Barnabee said. “It’s a great line and, you know, when you’re ice, you can’t ice it. And I just know big time players come up in big time situations. And I came up in a big situation right there.”
After the heroics in the seventh, Poly carried that momentum into extra innings, when Edgar Rosales led off the top of the eighth with a ringing triple into left center. From there, Poly used some small ball to score four times in the inning and bust the game open for a 6-2 lead. Only one other ball left the infield during the rally as the Jackrabbits executed three squeeze bunts in the inning.
First, catcher Bobby Ramirez laid down a perfect suicide squeeze to bring Rosales home. After an infield single, Sebastian Lebario put down another great bunt to bring home the second run. Scott then smacked an RBI double before Barnabee finished the scoring with an RBI bunt of his own. Barnabee actually bunted on three of his four plate appearances, saving the game-tying triple for the other. The senior was 2/3 at the plate with a pair of RBIs and a stolen base.
Rosales finished off Poly’s win on the mound to cap off 2.2 scoreless innings of relief. He was also 2/4 at the dish with a pair of runs scored, a triple, and a stolen base.
“I just went out there and trusted my defense and pounded the zone,” said Rosales of pitching through the late innings. “It’s the best feeling as a pitcher (to have a great defense) and being part of it on defense is even better.”
Poly’s starter Elias Torres was solid on the mound, tossing a no-hitter through five innings while holding Millikan scoreless. He was given a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning as James Villa pulled a two-out RBI double down the first base line to score Rosales.
Torres was lifted in the sixth after allowing a single up the middle to Tyler Bermundo and then a bunt single to Bilal Ali. The next batter was Dean Ormonde who lined a two-run single into left field to give Millikan the 2-1 lead. The Rams almost added to that narrow lead with the bases loaded and one out, but a sharp grounder to Troy Criss at shortstop was handled beautifully by the senior, who got a great read on a high bounce up above his eyes and started a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
The Jackrabbits were able to tie the game in the seventh on the Barnabee triple, but appeared poised to take the lead on a ground ball up the middle by Ryan Skjonsby. But Ali made a terrific diving stop to get a force out at second and strand a pair of runners.
Millikan starter Myles Patton again pitched well against the Jackrabbits, going 7 innings allowing just one earned run while piling up 10 strikeouts.
“There were some good things, but not enough to finish the game,” said Millikan coach Ron Keester. “We need to finish the game and we weren’t able to do it. I thought Myles was really good, we just didn’t finish. We left the door open and they took advantage of that.”
The win gives Poly and inside track on a second consecutive Moore League title, but there’s still work left for the Jackrabbits. After visiting Cabrillo, Poly will take on the second-place Lakewood Lancers next Friday at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field. That’s also where Millikan will play its next game, facing Wilson on Thursday at 8 p.m. under the lights.