It was a southern battle for the championship in the Guam Amateur Baseball League, with the Agat Cardinals and Sumay Chiefs facing off at the LeoPalace Resort baseball stadium in Yona on Sunday night.
Gavin Dirige’s RBI single off Mateo Escalona scored Jess Alerta for the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Kyle Arce worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh inning as the Cardinals held on for a dramatic 9-8 comeback victory over the Chiefs to capture the 2019 amateur title.
After finishing the regular season in last place with a 1-6 record, the Cardinals turned up the intensity in the playoffs and rattled off four straight wins to win the title.
“What clicked for us is we kept practicing hard, and we figured out what we needed to do as a team,” Alerta said. “Give props to Sumay – they beat the two top seeds coming into this, and they are a tough team.”
The upstart Chiefs trailed 6-1 after three innings, but as they had all season, they battled back, rallying to tie the game, 7-7, behind a two-RBI single from Matt Muna in the top of the sixth inning off reliever Pollycard Luther. The Chiefs grabbed a 9-8 lead when Johnny Cruz stole home on a double steal.
Muna showed he is still one of the best hitters on island, powering the Chiefs offense to go 4 for 5 with three runs scored and two runs batted in.
The resilient Cardinals came out swinging in the bottom of the sixth. Leo Eber led off with a double and advanced to third off a single by Paul Untalan. The Chiefs and starting pitcher Jayce Concepcion looked like they might escape trouble, turning a double play on an infield grounder that left Eber still standing on third base.
But Alerta delivered with two outs, plating Eber for the tying run with a single to right. Dirige drove home Alerta with what proved to be the winning run with a single to left.
The Chiefs made it interesting in the seventh, loading the bases with no outs to chase Luther. The Cardinals turned Kyle Arce, who promptly got the first out on a strikeout and induced Muna to hit a game-ending double play to secure the title.
Agat starting pitcher Chad Daniel went four innings with two strikeouts and allowed three runs. Luther picked up the win with four strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings. Arce notched the save getting the final three outs for the Cardinals.
Eber was named MVP, going 2 for 4 with two runs scored in the championship game and a blistering 7 for 14 with six runs scored and nine RBIs in four playoff games.
“I told them I was going to win the MVP,” laughed Eber.
“That was the hit of the year, right there,” Eber said on his leadoff double to spark the comeback in the sixth. “We always tell the boys to keep grinding, don’t stop, to keep fighting.”
Dirige and Alerta each added three hits for the Cardinals on Saturday.
“We want to keep this team together. Keep it going for the younger generations coming up to have this franchise and keep going with it,” acknowledged Alerta.
John Cruz was 2 for 4 with a run scored, and Jonah Peredo added three hits in the loss for the Chiefs.
Chiefs manager Mateo Escalona, just 19 years old, is the epitome of the Chiefs youth movement, which features many of the top prep players from around the island.
“With the team being so young, they have this fire in them that they walk into every game with. They played every game with all they had, and they’re all only going to get better,” expressed Escalona. “A lot of these boys needed the experience and I know they’re going to take this season with them wherever they go.”