Long Beach Poly baseball made history on Thursday by winning its first back-to-back Moore League championship ever. A huge sixth inning and a handful of clutch performances from upperclassmen delivered the 3-2 win at Wilson that clinched the title.
“I’ve been staring at that Moore League trophy for quite some time and not one time does it ever say Long Beach Poly back-to-back years,” Poly coach Brent Lavoie said. “It’s hard to win one, and we’re so fortunate and blessed to win two. They both feel great, but this one is even a little bit more special.”
Poly got a pair of strong pitching performances from seniors Liam Alpern and Edgar Rosales, who combined to scatter seven hits across seven innings. Rosales came out of the bullpen to get the win with three innings of work. The senior third baseman also had three hits and sparked the game-winning rally in the sixth inning.
“We were just locked in from the get-go,” Rosales said. “When we were down 1-0 we still knew we had a chance. We took that (recent lopsided loss) against Lakewood as a fire under us. We just left it all out there today knowing we had a chance to win it all.”
Wilson took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, and Bruins starter Charlie Royle settled in during the middle innings, but Rosales led off the sixth with a double to get his team going. With two strikes on him, Poly senior catcher Bobby Ramirez brought Rosales in to score with an RBI single through the left side that tied the game.
“It feels great and very emotional,” Ramirez said. “Our seniors last year couldn’t stay but I’m glad we were able to bring it back home for them.”
After James Villa and Raymond Jenkins both singled to load the bases and keep the top of the sixth inning alive, shortstop Troy Criss came up and battled to a full count. The senior captain then drilled a 2-RBI single into left field that gave the Jackrabbits a 3-1 lead.
“We worked hard and we thought we deserved it and we just wanted to go out there and get it,” Criss said, adding that the program has changed a lot under Lavoie since he started as a freshman. “It was a lot of fun to see us get better every year.”
Other players also gave coach Lavoie his due credit after the win.
“He’s the coach that’s in it the most out of any coach I’ve ever had,” senior Kenny Barnabee said. “He lives and breathes baseball. He strives for everyone to succeed. He’s always out there for us and pushing us to be better. Him being that type of guy gets us fired up and keeps us locked in throughout the season.”
Barnabee added that the Jackrabbits looked more comfortable in the clutch moments on Thursday because they’re used to being in them.
“We practice where this is going to be the game-winning play… This is two-outs, bottom of the seventh with the winning run on base,” Barnabee said. “When the time came where it was the seventh inning and we’re only up one we knew we had practiced this every day this season. We were kind of ready for the moment.”
Considering the rough start to their season, it’s extra heartbreaking for Wilson to have been four outs away from a shared league title because Millikan had already beaten Lakewood across town. A Bruins win would’ve resulted in the first four-way league title in history.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Wilson coach Andy Hall said. “It’s obviously a game of momentum. We had it for about five innings and then they put the bat on the ball a few times against (Royle) a pretty good high school pitcher. You got to take your hat off to them.”
There was plenty of early action as both teams put two runners in scoring position in the first inning. It looked like Wilson would score on a fly ball to center field with one out, but Barnabee made a perfect throw to Ramirez to make the tag through contact.
“I saw Kenny ready to throw and (I knew) it was going to be bang-bang at the plate,” Ramirez said. “I was ready to take on anything, and he came with everything. I’m glad I was able to hold onto it.”
Barnabee has been struggling with an elbow injury on his throwing arm, but said he took enough Advil before the game to perform.
“You never want to give up runs in the first inning,” Barnabee said. “It was a big moment in the game. That got us fired up.”
The Bruins ended up taking the 1-0 lead in the second inning when senior John Lanterman led off with a double, and junior Zach Wakefield plated him with a 2-out double of his own.
Alpern was able to get on top of Wilson bats in the following two innings during which he only gave up one hit. The senior came into the season tabbed as the Poly ace, but had to sit out for six weeks with an arm injury. Lavoie said he worked his way back specifically for this game.
“We debated it but we wanted to see how he was feeling and if he really wanted it,” Lavoie said. “He absolutely did, and went out there and gave us everything he had.”
Poly only managed to collect a pair of hits off Royle in the third, fourth and fifth innings. However, Rosales turned everything around by leading off the top of the sixth inning with a double in the left center field gap.
“Dude has been a gamer since his freshman year,” Lavoie said of Rosales. “I knew I had something special when I got he and Troy Criss inserted right into a varsity lineup. Four years with those guys have been awesome.”
After junior Sebastian Lebario moved him over with a sacrifice bunt, Ramirez came up and Lavoie called for the suicide squeeze, but wasn’t able to get the bunt down.
“He’s one of our best bunters and hitters,” Lavoie said. “If there’s any guy out here who deserves to win his name is Bobby Ramirez, and that’s why we rolled with him.”
Ramirez said he wasn’t surprised by the suicide squeeze call.
“That’s been our game all year,” he said. “I was ready but just couldn’t execute. I was glad I came up in that situation with the pressure on. I feel like I was the right guy for that job, and I was able to execute.”
Ramirez and Royle battled until the senior catcher smacked a single through the left side to plate Rosales.
“You have to relax and just focus on this pitch and this moment and be ready to grind,” Ramirez said of hitting in the clutch moments.
Criss also battled with Royle and worked the count full with two outs before his 2-RBI single that ended up being the game-winning hit.
Rosales had already taken over for Alpern on the mound, and despite giving up an RBI sacrifice fly to Lanterman in the bottom half of the sixth, he was able to mix in his slider and strand runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings. The possible tying and game-winning runs were on base in the seventh inning when he got a pop out to set off the dog pile celebration.
“He’s the MVP of the league, no doubt,” Barnabee said of Rosales. “No matter what he rakes and throws hard on the mound. He’s a really great player all around. He’s gonna do big things in his future no matter where he goes.”
“My mind is racing and I’m kind of speechless right now,” Rosales said after celebrating with his teammates. “I’m happy we got it done.”
The CIF Southern Section playoff brackets will be released on Sunday. Poly will go into Division 2, and because of their sub .500 record Wilson is going to miss the playoffs.