UNION CITY — The San Mateo National 9-10 Little League All-Star team faced a daunting task: beat Union City National two times to claim the Section 3 championship.
San Mateo took care of business Tuesday with an emphatic 11-0 win over Union City, setting up Wednesday’s winner-take-all championship game at Veterans’ Park in Union City.
Despite Tuesday’s win, San Mateo acting manager Jerry Berkson had a bad feeling about Wednesday.
“I didn’t have a good feeling coming into today (Wednesday),” Berkson said, adding he felt his team was flat coming into the game.
Berkson’s worst fears played out through the first three innings as Union City starting pitcher Dago Flores kept San Mateo off balance at the plate. In the fourth inning, however, San Mateo broke through with a pair of runs to tie the game and then won the Section 3 title on Nico Button’s RBI double to left-center field in the bottom of the sixth inning to drive in Connor Brady, who was pinch running for Connor Dorgan. He had opened the inning with a walk.
“We had to claw back,” Berkson said. “I told them we had to get into their bullpen.”
Once Union City starting pitcher Dago Flores reached his pitch limit in the fourth inning, Berkson’s strategy paid off. After going hitless and scoreless over its first three innings, San Mateo had four hits and scored three times against two Union City relievers over the final three innings.
It was the perfect ending for Button, who picked up the win on the mound with 5 2/3 innings of work. With Brady at first and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Union City decided to intentionally walk No. 2 hitter Jake Willerup to pitch to Button. The lefty wasted little time, jumping on the first pitch he saw and driving it to the fence.
“I was thinking just make solid contact and hit it up the middle,” Button said. “I was expecting to take a strike, but it was right there so I swung.”
Button was just as tough on the mound. He struck out six and walked only one while scattering six hits. He made one mistake to Iziah Martinez, who deposited the first pitch he saw over the center-field fence in the second inning. Union City made it 2-0 when it tacked on a second run in the top of the third, scoring an unearned run when Niko Munoz’s infield hit drove in Danny Mascorro, who had reached on an error leading off the inning.
“I felt a little nervous after giving up the home run,” Button said. “But then I relaxed.”
Despite going hitless for three innings, San Mateo had its chances to score. It loaded the bases on three walks but could not cash in the first inning. It had two more base runners reach in the second and put runners on second and third with one out in the third and again came up empty.
Jake Calaveras finally got to Flores when he blooped a single into shallow right field to key his team’s two-run fourth. He was later erased on a force play at third, but a walk to Kai Lim and Jason Villar’s fielder’s choice put runners on first and second for Willerup. After taking ball one from Union City reliever Martinez, Willerup launched a drive to deep left field, barely missing a home run. Lim scored easily from second and Villar, who ran through Berkson’s stop sign at third, managed to tie the score all the way from first, despite a collision at the plate. The throw beat him by plenty, but the Union City catcher could not hold on to the ball.
San Mateo had a chance to win it in the bottom of the fifth, putting runners on second and third following a pair of hits in the inning. But it ended with Ike Pineda being tagged out at the plate as he attempted to score on a wild pitch.
San Mateo didn’t miss its chance in the sixth.
“It’s exciting,” Button said. “Now we go to San Jose and represent (the Peninsula in the divisional series beginning Saturday).”