Tense pitching duel leaves Kennett just short of world title
BANGOR, Maine — You can’t get any closer.
The KAU Kings got within one hit of winning it all, but lost a heart-breaking 2-1 decision, Saturday, to Panama in the finals of the Senior League World Series.
The game was a tense, crisply played affair, with the title literally hanging in the balance until the final pitch. In the end, the Kings’ amazing ride ended because Javier Garcia, a hard-throwing righty, shut them down, his fastball reaching 90 MPH, and a hard-breaking curve ball making it impossible to just sit on the heater.
Alex Pechin was nearly as strong on the mound for the Kings, using command and poise to keep the big bats of the Panama team off balance.
A team that has overcome so much, from the death of Cathy Reese — mother of Tucker Reese — during the regionals, to the loss and serious injury of starting catcher Eric Duerr, couldn’t overcome Panama’s only rally in the game, a two-run outburst in the sixth.
In fairness, Panama also faced challenges, with big bats Gurtudis Tello and Luis Alonzo suspended after an event in the semi-finals, along with two coaches.
And both teams managed to hold off the other, showing poise at key moments.
Scoreless through three, KAU grabbed the lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Joe Zirolli stroked a one gapper to left, a double, to get things going.
Reese grounded to short, but shortstop Luis Mendoza opted to throw to third, but Edgardo Sandoval couldn’t hold on to the ball, and Zirolli stayed safe at third. That gave KAU runners on first and third, with one out. Freeman then walked to load the bases. Eric Takoushian grounded the ball to second, scoring Zirolli, to make it 1-0.
That left runners on second and third, with two outs. But Dan Garver grounded back to the pitcher to end the rally.
Pechin held Panama off until the sixth.
Abel Gallardo led off the inning with a base hit to right — but he was nearly thrown out by an excellent throw by Zirolli from right field. Abel Frias then drew a walk and KAU — and Pechin — faced a tough situation, runners on first and second and no outs.
Mendoza bunted to Pechin for the first out, but both runners advanced to second and third. Sandoval then hit a ground ball up the middle, Takoushian, moving to his right, bobbled the ball, and Gallardo scored, with Sandoval beating out the play at first. That tied the game. Mendoza would move up to second on a pitch in the dirt.
Pechin managed to induce Garcia to pop out to Tucker for the second out. But then catcher Andrew Jones lost an outside pitch, and Frias scored what would prove to be the winning run.
KAU rallied in the seventh, Jake Freeman reached on an error by Sandoval to start off the seventh and then Takoushian singled to center and the Kings were in business.
Garver laid down a perfect bunt back to Garcia to move Freeman and Takousian up to second and third, with one out.
But here Garcia buckled down, and finding his best fastball of the day, touching 91 MPH on the radar, he struck out Chris Tucker on a wicked fastball for the second out.
That left it up to Jarmuz, who had been the best hitter for KAU all year. Again, though, Garcia saved his best work for last and induced a foul fly ball just outside and beyond first for the final out.