Sunnyside Advances to State Little League Tournament Behind Power Hitting, Dominant Pitching

Izaiah Moraga did not cool off until his teammates doused him with ice-cold water during a postgame interview.

Even then, he was able to finish answering the question without a problem.

That’s fitting for his dominating performance against a traditionally strong Rincon team in a 5-0 victory in the District 12 Little League championship on Tuesday night at The Field of Dreams Park. Sunnyside moves on to the Arizona State Little League tournament in Kingman starting Tuesday.

Moraga answered the challenge Rincon presented when he was on the mound or when he swung the bat.

Sunnyside championship pose (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The towering seventh-grader, close to 6-foot, playing with the participants 10 to 12 years old, hit a two-run home run that reached the parking lot well beyond the center-field fence and pitched two-hit ball in 5 2/3 innings, striking out eight and walking only one.

“On the mound, I felt really confident,” Moraga said. “I knew the first game that we played them, I know they weren’t pretty much doing anything. I knew I had to take advantage what pitches and what speed I was going to consistently throw.”

Moraga did not allow a runner past second base. He left with two outs in the sixth inning because he reached his 85-pitch limit. Damian Lorta, another hero in the game for Sunnyside, came in to strike out the last batter.

Lorta also homered, a solo shot to center field in the third inning, to increase Sunnyside’s lead to 2-0 at that point. Jordan Mayboca, who later hit a home run, reached on a single after Lorta’s home run and then Moraga followed with his shot beyond the centerfield fence to put Sunnyside ahead 4-0.

“I just had in my mind a fastball, and that’s what I got,” Lorta said of his home run. “He threw me a curveball to open the at-bat. And then I thought he has to throw the fastball now.”

Lorta hit close to .800 in the four-game district tournament with three home runs.

He also opened the tournament pitching a perfect game against Rincon in five innings when Sunnyside won 14-0 on July 1. Sunnyside won three of its four games via the mercy rule and outscored the opposition 45-2 in those games.

“He’s been working a lot on his pitching,” Sunnyside manager Francisco Rivero said of Lorta. “He’s on top right now. He’s enjoying his best moment.

“Our kids overall are great players and great teammates. There’s a lot of chemistry on it. We have the team to compete and try to move forward to the next step. We’re going to go harsh from the beginning (in the state tournament).”

The combination of Moraga and Lorta on the mound and at the plate is as good as it gets. Add to that a reliable lineup and defense and Sunnyside should be one of the favorites to advance to the regional tournament.

Aciel Guillen, who went 1 for 2 with a run, made some impressive plays at second base. Mayboca, the catcher batting clean-up, went 2 for 2 with his home run.

Moraga, working his way back from a fractured humerus, pitched his first game for Sunnyside on Tuesday night. He has pitched himself into shape for his father’s 13U Majestics club team.

“He’s been working hard and it’s finally taking a toll,” said his father Ernest Moraga, an assistant on Sunnyside’s staff. “He’s always been the big kid on each team. Hopefully he keeps it going and works his way up to the next level and keeps going.”

Izaiah comes from the famed Moraga baseball family in Tucson.

His uncle is Omar Moraga, who starred at Sunnyside and with the Arizona Wildcats before embarking on a professional career. His cousin Adam Moraga, Omar’s son, excelled as a pitcher at Sunnyside and Pima College and is bound for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, an NAIA program in Chickasha, Okla.

Ernest Moraga, a cousin of Omar’s, was an all-city infielder and pitcher who graduated from Sunnyside in 2002 and went on to pro ball after stops at South Mountain Community College and Wayland Baptist University. It was almost 23 years to the day that Ernest hit a home run for Sunnyside Little League (on July 10, 1996) in a 17-0 win over International to claim the District 12 title.

“I think if Izaiah just keeps working at it and keeps getting bigger and stronger I think he will get there,” Ernest said. “It’s the same thing with him (in terms of the Moraga family success). He’s just a little bit taller. “

Considering the overwhelming run production for Sunnyside in the District 12 tournament, Rincon starter Anthony Montez had a good outing. Montez kept Sunnyside to five runs in his 4 2/3 innings while allowing seven hits with four strikeouts and two walks.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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