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Rancho Cucamonga's Title Dream Ends

Chandler, Ariz., team claims Western Regional championship with a 2-0 victory and advances to the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.

August 13, 2003|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

The Rancho Cucamonga Vineyard Little League team found out Tuesday night how bright the lights are at the Western Region final.

Playing before 12,000 spectators and a national-television audience, Vineyard seemed caught in the glare against Chandler (Ariz.) National, committing three errors and another key baserunning mistake that led to a 2-0 loss in San Bernardino.

Chandler National, which plays in an area that claims to be second-sunniest location on earth, didn't give in to pressure while performing under the spotlight. It wasn't easy, as Chandler National was trying to become the first Arizona team to advance to the Little League World Series since Tucson International in 1986.

Chandler National pitcher Cory Bernard threw a four-hitter with eight strikeouts, facing the minimum number of batters through the first three innings and then pitching out of his only trouble in the fourth.

Bernard was rested for the start, having thrown only six innings in five Western Region games.

"We have four really good pitchers," said Bernard, who struck out five of the last six batters. "I knew if I got in trouble, we had somebody waiting to come in."

Tim Fowler provided the offense, getting two of the four hits off Vineyard starter Jordan Dresner, including a towering home run in the top of the sixth that gave Chandler National a two-run cushion. Fowler also hit a two-run home Friday to help Chandler National to a 3-0 victory over Vineyard in a pool-play game.

"I didn't think we could shut them out twice," said Chandler Coach Eddy Malone Jr., a former football player at Arizona State.

Chandler National scored in the first inning after a leadoff single by Justin Rosales, who stole second and went to third on a wild pitch.

Aaron Hardenburg then hit a roller to Vineyard second baseman Elijah Briseno. Rosales held at third initially, but when Briseno didn't field the ball cleanly, he scored easily and Hardenburg was safe at first.

Vineyard committed another error on a potential inning-ending double play in the fourth, but got out of the jam when the next batter, Michael Benjamin, grounded to shortstop and Fowler was thrown out at home trying to score.

Vineyard's best scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the fourth, but a base-running error cost it a chance to tie the score.

Briseno led off with a single to left field and Michael Rodriguez followed with a single to right-center. Center fielder Trevor Benjamin bobbled the ball after sliding into the gap to make the play, but Briseno was already returning to second base. Tommy Reyes grounded to first, moving the runners up, but Bernard struck out Dresner and got pinch-hitter Artie Solis to ground to second.

"It was one of those things," Vineyard Coach Richard Reyes said of the baserunning error. "If you pick up the third base coach on that play, you're still running."

Fowler's sixth-inning homer gave Chandler a 2-0 lead. The home run was in keeping with a promise Fowler made this year upon departing from a club tournament in San Bernardino.

Fowler, along with three teammates, left a note in a locker that said, "We'll be back. Chandler National will be back."

Now, Chandler National becomes the first team from the Grand Canyon State to play in the Little League World Series in 17 years.

"I'm surprised by that," Malone said. "This state is one of the hotbeds of baseball."

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