Tucson Little League Baseball

Sunnyside Little League Pitching Depth Puts Its Manager at Ease Heading Into West Regional Final

Three of Sunnyside’s best pitchers — Izaiah Moraga, Juan Hernandez and Damian Lorta — can’t take the mound against Hawaii on Saturday night in the West Regional championship because of Little League rules requiring them to rest after reaching varying levels of pitch counts the last two nights.

Sunnyside manager Frank Rivero is not concerned.

He will start crafty right-hander Juan Abril, whose curveball is “nasty,” according to Rivero, in the game against Hawaii at 6 p.m. (which will be televised on ESPN) at San Bernardino, Calif.

Sunnyside celebrates its dramatic win Friday (ESPN screen shot)

Abril allowed only three hits in 46 pitches over five innings in a 13-1 win over Nevada on Tuesday. He has allowed only one earned run in 7 1/3 innings this summer.

“He has shut down all the teams he has faced,” Rivero said. “We have a lot of trust in what he can do. We also have faith in our lineup.”

If necessary, Rivero can also call on his son Francisco Rivero, Mikey Muniz (one of Friday night’s heroes in the 3-2 win over Northern California with the walkoff double) and Jordan Mayboca. Muniz pitched 3 1/3 innings in the state and district tournaments and did not allow an earned run.

Moraga, whose solo home run against Northern California preceded Muniz’s big hit in the bottom of the sixth, said his team has confidence in Abril on the mound against Hawaii.

“We just want to play hard and hope for the best. We know Juan can do his job,” Moraga said.

Hernandez and Lorta combined for 14 strikeouts Friday. After Northern California rallied for two runs on three hits in the first inning, it only had two hits over the next five innings. Lorta struck out seven did not allow a walk in his 2 1/3 innings of relief.

He entered with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth inning and struck out out the batter to end the threat. With his mid-70’s mph fastball, Lorta did not allow a runner past first base in the last two innings.

Rivero is tasked with allowing his young players (11 and 12 years old) to revel in the dramatic win over Northern California while also preparing to face a Hawaii team that is 3-0 in the tournament, including a 6-5 win in eight innings over Sunnyside on Monday.

“We’re going to head back (to the dorm rooms near Houghton Stadium) and meet in the room and talk about baseball,” Rivero said. “Hawaii is a really good team. We’re going to be the home team again, so that’s a good thing for us.”

The euphoric win over Northern California included Rivero’s son Francisco with two important hits. His RBI single scored Muniz, a pinch-runner, in the second inning. His single with two outs in the sixth against Northern California ace Chase Bentley kept the rally alive for Muniz’s heroic walkoff double.

Sunnyside chanting before Friday’s win (ESPN screen shot)

Rare that players can alternate scoring each other in a baseball game like Muniz and Rivero managed.

“That’s why I tell our guys to always be ready,” the elder Rivero said. “You never know what can happen. We never gave up (after trailing in the game until the sixth-inning rally).

“We really hope Juan Abril can do his business against Hawaii, and by the will of God, we’ll be blessed. We have a lot of faith and a lot of trust on this team.”


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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