Sunnyside’s Damian Lorta belted two more home runs Wednesday night, his third and fourth of the West Regional, enabling his team to advance to the semifinals of the tournament at San Bernardino, Calif.
Lorta went 2 for 3 with four RBIs with his two home runs in the 8-6 win for Sunnyside over Southern California in an elimination bracket game at Houghton Stadium. The left-handed power hitter has seven home runs in 11 games this summer for the Sunnyside all-star team.
He is 7 for 11 with nine RBIs in Sunnyside’s three regional games. Overall this summer, he is a phenomenal 21 for 31 (.677) with 19 RBIs to go with his seven home runs.
“I’m seeing the ball like a big beach ball right now,” Lorta said over the phone from the field after the game. “I am really confident right now. I’m hot so it’s going to be tough to get me out.”
Sunnyside will play Friday at 6 p.m. on ESPN against the loser of Thursday’s winner’s bracket final between Hawaii and Northern California. If Sunnyside wins Friday, it plays Saturday in the regional final and the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.
A Tucson team has not advanced to Williamsport since 1986, when Tucson International went that far and lost in the championship game to Taiwan. Cactus Little League also made it to Williamsport in 1973, losing in the title game to Taiwan as well.
“It’s really crazy right now because it’s been a long time since a Sunnyside team has made it this far,” said Sunnyside starting pitcher Izaiah Moraga, who struck out six batters and walked two in 4 1/3 innings.
Sunnyside last reached the West Regional final in 1984, when it came so close in a 1-0 loss to Northern California.
Lorta was again the standout Wednesday night for Sunnyside, which took an 8-1 lead on his home run in the fourth. It was a solo shot. One inning earlier, as part of Sunnyside’s five-run rally in which it sent 11 batters to the plate, Lorta belted a three-run home run.
“Damian right now is really swinging the bat hard and we hope that continues,” Moraga said.
Jordan Mayboca and Anthony Ochoa also doubled and scored for Sunnyside. Aciel Guillen, Andrew Romo and Michel Muniz were aggressive with stolen bases.
Sunnyside established control early thanks to the pitching of Moraga, who allowed only one run through the first four innings while his team built the seven-run lead.
“I had to trust my defense and they did their job,” Moraga said, referring to Sunnyside’s one error.
Sunnyside has only one error in each of the last two games after committing eight in a 6-5 loss in eight innings against Hawaii in the opening round Monday.
The team made stellar defensive plays Wednesday, in particular a running stop by Guillen at second base, barely throwing out the runner at first in time. Also, Francisco Rivero at shortstop, cleanly fielded a ball that took a fast bounce off the lip of the grass on the infield and got a runner in the nick of time at first base.
“I think our chances of doing well are pretty high on Friday,” Lorta said. “We barely lost to Hawaii in extra innings and we had a lot of errors. If we play our game, our chances are really good.”
Rivero went to the mound in the fifth and threw two strikeouts to end Southern California’s rally and preserve Sunnyside’s 8-5 lead.
In the sixth, Southern California rallied for a run after starting the inning with two outs. Two singles and a Sunnyside’s lone error allowed the run to score and Sunnyside clung to its 8-6 lead with runners on second and first.
Rivero got the final out on a fielder’s choice ground ball to Guillen at second base. Guillen flipped the ball to Lorta at shortstop. It is fitting that Lorta made the final out at second base with how he put his stamp on the game.
The win by Sunnyside avenges a loss to a Southern California team last year, which eliminated it from the West Regional.
Sunnyside does not play Thursday. The coaches will watch the game between Northern California and Hawaii at 6 p.m.
A long practice is in store for Sunnyside — they routinely practice for four to five hours — so the team “really won’t have a break,” Moraga said.
“We’ll be practicing hard,” he added. “The coaches will be pushing us. We’ll be ready.”
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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.