The 11u Elite Chino Hills Thunder gave its fans a scare in its first game of the 2018 Triple Crown World Series, sliding by Dallas Tigers-Bazzell by one run, 5-4. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing for head coach Rene Lopez and his boys.
No other team crept within four runs, including Chino’s 11-1 championship-capturing contest Sunday against Santa Clarita Clutch.
“That’s probably the best we’ve hit as a collective unit,” said Lopez. “All year long, the key to our success has been our pitching and our defense. We come out to this tournament and all 11 guys were on fire. It was fun to watch.”
Starting pitcher Jerry Mendoza began his day with confidence, forcing a quick fly out to start the game. Two batters later, Trajveer Brar sent one right back off Mendoza’s leg, redirecting to first base for the second out of the inning. Mendoza would take a couple of moments to gather himself and elected to stay in the contest.
“After I got hit, I thought it’s time to throw strikes now,” Mendoza said. “I didn’t want them to hit the ball anymore. I’m not going to lie, every time the ball was put in play, I was a little scared of being hit but my infielders and the guys in the outfield did a great job all day of making plays.”
If Mendoza’s confidence was going to waver after an understandably nerve-rattling moment, it was going to come in the next at-bat when Clutch lined one toward the pitcher once more. The undeterred 11-year old stood tall, though, ending the inning with his second assist of the inning, this one a little more conventional.
The Thunder looked to continue its hot offensive streak heading into the bottom of the first inning. Chase Davidson led off with a single, stole second and third and came scampering home on a Clutch throwing error putting Chino Hills up 1-0 in a hurry.
Jacob Arreguin didn’t need that kind of speed when he got to the plate. The clean-up hitter hammered an impressive opposite-field shot over the right field fence, scoring two more runs for the home side.
“It was a simple fastball on the outside corner,” said Arreguin. “Whenever I see that pitch, I’m just trying to take it the other way and elevate it.”
Chino scored a fourth run in the first inning thanks to Justin Lopez’s RBI-single. The Thunder were in complete command as Mendoza headed back the hill.
For the second consecutive inning, Santa Clarita could not figure out the right-hander. On the day, Mendoza would finish with four innings pitched, gave up just six hits and one run, while letting his defense do most of the work.
“That kid is a bulldog,” said Lopez. “He’s actually tougher on himself than we are on him, which makes him one the best competitors on the team.”
After adding a fifth run in the second inning and Mendoza dealing, Chino looked to break the game open in the bottom of the third. Arreguin sparked the Thunder’s second multi-run inning with a double. In fact, the first nine batters of the frame would at least reach first base. Scoring five more runs, the Chino raced out to a daunting 10-0 lead.
Brady Stull, Justin Lopez and Jerry Mendoza all came up with run-scoring hits in the big frame.
Santa Clarita ended its scoring drought in the bottom of the fourth inning to make it 10-1. Chino Hills needed just a single tally in the bottom end to claim the 11u Elite crown.
Fittingly, with the bases loaded it was Mendoza who walked the plate. Already with two hits and two RBI on the afternoon, Mendoza completed a perfect outing, lining the first pitch he saw up the middle to score Joshua Springer, sealing the win, 11-1.
“It was a knuckleball that he left hanging,” said Mendoza. “I really just tried to hit the ball in the air, but I guess I hit a line drive over the shortstop’s head but it got the run it. That’s what matters.”
Chino Hills didn’t need much time to acclimate to the mountain conditions in Steamboat Springs, CO, completing a perfect 7-0 run to the 11u Elite title. Taking down a fellow Southern Californian squad made it even that much better for the Thunder.
“We’ve seen them a lot,” said Arreguin. “The Clutch are a great team. They’ve beaten us a couple of times but today was our day.”
“It means a lot to these guys,” Lopez said. “We have a couple of guys that have been with us since they were five or six years old. It’s nice for us to come to such an elite event and win a championship.”