Sunnyside went from facing elimination down in the sixth inning against Northern California to euphoria behind the bats of Izaiah Moraga and Michel Muniz, who are classmates at Gallego Intermediate School.
Moraga’s solo blast with one out in the final inning tied the game and Muniz’s RBI double gave Sunnyside the 3-2 win Friday night at Houghton Stadium at San Bernardino, Calif.
“Before that at-bat, I was asking God to please let me get the hit,” an emotional Muniz told me over the phone.
He was visibly in tears as his teammates lifted him on their shoulders.
“I was thinking of my cousin, Jesus Ruiz, who passed away when he was 3 days old back in 2006,” Muniz said. “I carry his memory with me.”
Sunnyside, 3-1 in the regionals, faces Hawaii tomorrow at 6 p.m. on ESPN in the championship game. The winner advances to the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa. It is Sunnyside’s first appearance in a regional final since 1984.
The victory came against Northern California’s towering dominant pitcher Chase Bentley, who struck out six batters with no walks in 5 2/3 innings.
Moraga’s blast to left-center field, his second home run of the regionals, came on a 0-1 pitch with one out.
“I couldn’t think; it was such a crazy moment,” Moraga said. “I thought I just got a hit, that it might just hit off the fence. When I saw it go over, it was so exciting.
“I was hoping everybody in Tucson would celebrate with us no matter what.”
Izaiah Moraga! pic.twitter.com/4WKyQgUHp8
With two outs, Francisco Rivero reached on a single and he came around for the winning score on Muniz’s drive to right center field that got past the fielders.
“I was just hoping that Francisco would score when I saw it bounce off the ground,” Muniz said. “When Francisco got that hit before I came up, it motivated me. I thought it was my time to shine.”
After I just interviewed Michel Muniz, one of Sunnyside's heroes tonight with the game-winning double, he told me, "Have a good rest of your night, sir." I don't think my night will come anywhere close to his. pic.twitter.com/bGeYFLiH6m
Sunnyside rallied back after facing turbulence in the top of the first inning when Northern California rallied for its two runs.
Starting pitcher Juan Hernandez got through the inning down 2-0, allowing three hits in the process, and settled down from there.
By the time he reached his pitch count of 85, with two outs in the top of the fourth, Hernandez allowed only one more hit. He struck out seven batters and walked four.
Sunnyside cut the lead to 2-1 in the second inning on an RBI single by Rivero, who went 2 for 3. Jorge Zazueta led off the inning with a double and was replaced by Muniz as a pinch-runner. Muniz moved to third on a passed ball and scored on Rivero’s hit.
Damian Lorta, Sunnyside’s star at the plate in the regional with four home runs, was equally dominant on the mound relieving Hernandez. His seven strikeouts with no walks in 2 1/3 innings of relief kept Sunnyside just one run behind.
Lorta, who got the win, has now struck out 39 batters and walked only two in his 17 1/3 innings this summer. He has yet to allow an earned run.
Lorta is unable to pitch Saturday against Hawaii because he went past 21 pitches. Sunnyside will rely on starter Juan Abril and his crafty curveball to get past Hawaii and earn the trip to Williamsport.
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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.