Little League Baseball

Sunnyside’s “Cardiac Kids” earn another walk-off win to keep title hopes alive

Sunnyside celebrates after a 3-2 eight-inning win over Rincon in the District 12 Majors championship round (Javier Morales/

Sunnyside manager Gabe Garcia had the look of bewilderment Friday night as he walked through the dugout at Field of Dreams while his players gathered their equipment before heading home.

“You guys have to stop doing this to me,” Garcia said, smiling, after the 3-2 win in eight innings over Rincon. “I don’t know how much more my heart can take it. You have to get those hits earlier.”

For the second time in the last 48 hours, Garcia’s team, and his ticker, were put to the test at the end of a game.


Field of Dreams

Friday, July 9

Championship round — Sunnyside 3, Rincon 2 (8 innings). Sunnyside, from the elimination bracket, forces a deciding game

Saturday, July 10

Championship — Sunnyside vs. Rincon, 6:30 p.m.


Josue Espinoza hit a two-run walk-off home run Wednesday night to beat Empire 4-3 in the elimination-bracket final of the District 12 Majors tournament.

Faced with the daunting challenge of beating undefeated Rincon on Friday to force a deciding game for the championship Saturday, Sunnyside rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth to extend the game into extra innings.

Playing the international Little League rules for games beyond the seventh inning, a runner was automatically placed at second base to start the inning. Sunnyside took advantage of that rule in the bottom of the eighth with Santos Lopez on second when Diego Garcia led off with a ground out to shortstop.

Lopez broke for third base on the play. The throw from first base trying to get him out was slightly off and the ball rolled to the fence beyond third base. Lopez ran home for the game-winning run among his wildly jubilant teammates and coaches, including Garcia (Diego’s dad).

“They’re Cardiac Kids,” the elder Garcia said. “I’d rather have them hit earlier than later, but they all gel well so I know they trust in each other. They know not to give up. They’re really resilient. I’m very proud of them. It says a lot about our kids.”

Sunnyside is 4-1 in the tournament with three of the wins by one run. Its lone loss was against Rincon in the winner’s bracket final Tuesday night when Rincon (3-1) rallied from down two runs with three runs in the top of the sixth to win 5-4.

Sunnyside coach Gabe Garcia talks with his team (Andy Morales/

The two successful Little League organizations — both of which came within a game or two last decade of reaching the Little League World Series — will play for the District 12 title Saturday night at Field of Dreams with the first pitch at 6:30 p.m.

“I feel pretty good that our team can win,” said Espinoza, whose heroics Friday came on the mound in relief of effective starter Ezequiel Lorta. “If we can get our bats early, we can win the game, and if we have good pitching, we can win.”

Rincon scored a run in the first inning when leadoff hitter Israel Hernandez led off with a double and later scored on a wild pitch and passed ball.

The lead was extended to 2-0 in the third inning when Asher Bird, Hernandez and Chase Briggs strung together three consecutive singles with one out. Bird scored on Briggs’ hit.

Rincon’s Cole Lohrenz pitched a solid five innings (Andy Morales/

Other than those two rallies, Lorta and Rincon starter Cole Lohrenz engaged in a pitchers’ duel.

Lorta struck out nine and did not issue a walk before Espinoza relieved him with two outs in the fifth.

Lohrenz pitched five-plus innings and allowed only three hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

Garcia mentioned he delivered this message to his team: “Hey, this is elimination. Go out there and give it all. I’d rather you guys swing the bat than see pitches. If you see something you like, just go ahead and swing. It’s still baseball. You guys are still kids. Have fun and hit the ball. That’s what it’s all about.”

After pinch-hitter Carlos Rodriguez opened the sixth for Sunnyside with a single, Lorta walked. Following a pitching change, Christian Moran singled, advancing Rodriguez to third and Lorta to second.

On that same play, a throw from the outfield got past the catcher and Rodriguez ran home to cut the lead to 2-1.

Lorta advanced to third and Moran to second. With one out, Rincon intentionally walked Espinoza to load the bases and create a potential force out at any base.

Jayden Guadarrama worked the count full before walking to score Lorta with the tying run.

Ezequiel Lorta (24) and Josue Espinonza combined to strike out 16 batters without a walk (Andy Morales/ photos)

Rincon was retired in order by Espinoza in the seventh and started the eighth with the automatic runner on second. On a strikeout, the runner on second tried to steal third but was thrown out by Diego Garcia, the catcher.

After Bird hit an infield single, Espinoza struck out the last batter, setting up Sunnyside’s dramatic winning rally in the bottom of the eighth.

Lorta and Espinoza combined for 16 strikeouts and no walks and did not allow a baserunner past second base in the fourth through eighth innings.

“When (Espinoza) goes in, we know we’re going to get good pitching, easy outs, a lot of strikeouts,” Gabe Garcia said. “It’s like there’s less stress because Espi’s in there. We need to help him out. We need to hit. The same thing with (Lorta). … If that’s what we’re going to get every game, I’ll take it every game.”

The winner of Saturday’s championship game advances to the Arizona Little League state tournament at Tempe starting Friday.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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