Not even the most talented screenwriters in Hollywood could script an ending nearly as dramatic as the one the Beverly Hills 9- and 10-year-old Little League team produced Tuesday evening in the semifinals of the District 25 All-Star Baseball Tournament.
Trailing perennial power Ladera 10-5 with two innings left, Beverly Hills rallied to tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning (during the regular season there are five innings for this age group, and six in the post-season). Then Jacob Kalt drew a bases-loaded walk to force home the winning run in a thrilling 12-11 victory in Ladera Heights.
Beverly Hills advanced to the winner's bracket final at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Ladera's Little League fields against Santa Monica West, which beat West Los Angeles 11-3 in Friday's late game.
After getting ahead in the count, Kalt took a few pitches until it ran full to three balls and two strikes. The next pitch from Ladera's Jalen Parks was outside and Kalt tossed his bat away in celebration as Ian White trotted home from third and was mobbed as he touched home plate.
"I was nervous for sure," Kalt said of his game-winning at-bat. "I told myself 'Don't swing.' Strikeout or not it doesn't matter."
An RBI single by Logan Bush gave Ladera an 11-9 lead in the top of the sixth inning, but Oren Rimmon tagged out a runner trying to steal third and pitcher Seamus Neal struck out Ladera batters J.J Greenfield and Ryan Carr to end the inning.
"I felt really good, except when I gave up the home run in the fifth," Neal said. "I had to overcome that and I did overcome that, so mission accomplished!"
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Jayden Klimeck walked, then Judah Gould and Ian White followed with singles to load the bases. Another strikeout put Beverly Hills one out away from defeat, when Maclean Witmer stepped to the plate.
"My dad [manager Steve Witmer] told me the pitcher was wild, so make sure if you swing it's a strike," Witmer said. "I wanted to hit it to the outfield. It was a fastball on the outside corner and as soon as I hit it I thought it was going to be a hit."
Witmer came through, doubling to center field to score Klimeck and Gould to tie the game. Much to his chagrin, Neal was then walked intentionally to load the bases and set up a force play.
"I really wanted to get a hit to win it for us but I guess they thought I was too good," Neal said. "At that point the pressure was more on them. At the worst we were going to extra innings."
Steve Witmer was proud of the way his team overcame adversity earlier in the game.
"This is a very smart team," he said. "Most of them have played together for a few years and our mantra is 'We're the underdogs, but keep battling.' This was a balanced team effort."
Describing the last at-bat, Steve Witmer said Kalt followed instructions perfectly: "When he got ahead [in the count] I gave him the take sign. You never know what they're going to do, but Jacob properly took the last pitch."
Calvin Koo had pitched three shutout innings in Beverly Hills' previous game—a 13-5 comeback win over University—and pitched the first two innings Friday, leaving with the score tied 3-3.
"We took a huge gamble by pitching him and had we lost we would've had to play Thursday and he wouldn't have been able to pitch," Steve Witmer said. "Now he'll have the necessary rest."
Against University, Beverly Hills had fallen behind 2-0 in the fourth inning before batting around in the next two innings. Rimmon, who singled in his first at-bat Tuesday, never gave up hope—even after Ladera scored six runs in the top of the fourth.
"I felt we could come back, yes, because we still had two innings," said Rimmon, who played shortstop and pitcher in the regular season for the Tigers, who won the league championship, then lost in the first round of the Tournament of Champions. "Especially when we got the four runs in the fifth."
Caleb Gerber went 3-for-4 at the plate for Beverly Hills, which led 5-3 after three innings. Evan Pizzuro, Aaron Abramov, Noah Drinkward-Herrmann, Nathan Bauer and Nick Barnouw also contributed to the dramatic victory.
"I never give up, I always think positive," White said. "Even if we're losing I always think we can win."