The Southwestern Youth Association (SYA) East All-Stars utilized an age old successful baseball formula for winning a big game in their Virginia State Tournament Little League Majors (11-12 year olds) semifinals playoff encounter versus the West Springfield Americans on Tuesday night. The formula of success: home runs and strong starting pitching. SYA East, in the game played on Steve Reavis Field at Freedom Park in Leesburg, knocked out four home runs and received a solid outing on the mound from starting pitcher Sam Ryan.
The result for SYA East was a 10-4 win which advanced them to the state finals the following night (Wednesday, after deadline) versus the Reston Nationals. The state finals winner was set to move on to the Southeastern Regionals tournament beginning Aug. 5.
“That’s kind of been our mojo right there,” said SYA East Manager Jamie Brusick, of his team’s keys to winning throughout the postseason All-Stars district and state tournaments. “We try to stay in the game with pitching and defense, and eventually our bats will wake up.”
SYA East, with its semifinals win over West Springfield American, was one win away from successfully defending last year’s state crown. Two of SYA East’s players – second baseman Ronnie Orie and shortstop Ryan Brusick – were a part of the 2010 state champions, which went on to win two and lose two at the Southeastern Regionals. While the player makeup of this year’s SYA East All-Stars is much different from last year’s squad, the one common element is a knack for winning.
Brusick, the team’s manager, said the expectations have been huge for his team to live up to the success of last year’s All-Star squad, but that the 2011 All-Stars have shined nonetheless. The team, at the recent District 10 Tournament, went a perfect 4-0, including a finals win over Chantilly. At states, following the win over West Springfield American, SYA East was 4-1.
Over the nine postseason games (8-1 record overall), SYA East had belted an incredible 30 home runs. Ten of those have come from left-handed hitting Brusick, who bats in the No. 3 position of the team’s batting order.
Brusick and three teammates – leadoff hitting center fielder Tyler Gambone, No. 2 hitting first baseman Tommy Bradley, and No. 9 hitting left fielder Steven Kirk – each homered in the semifinals win over West Springfield American.
<b>SAM RYAN</b>, SYA East’s starting pitcher in the semifinals game, earned the victory, going 5-2/3 strong innings – just one out away from a complete game. Ryan had struggled in his previous start last Sunday in his team’s victory over Abington. And things started out rough in Tuesday’s game when the first batter he faced in the bottom of the first inning, West Springfield American shortstop Billy Cook, sent a home run over the center field fence to give his team a 1-0 lead.
But Ryan did not allow any more runs until the fifth inning when he was touched up for three. But by that time, SYA East, which scored six runs in a breakout top of the third inning, had pretty good control of the game. The West Springfield American three-run rally in the fifth inning cut the SYA East lead to 6-4.
In that West Springfield American fifth inning, Ryan retired the first two batters by strikeout before singles by leadoff man Cook and Sam Smith put runners on first and second. A wild pitch moved both runners up a base before West Springfield American catcher Michael Morgan sent a towering shot over the center field fence for a three-run homer which got West Springfield American back in the game at 6-4. Ryan, however, fanned the next batter to retire the side, and SYA East went into the final sixth inning with a two-run advantage.
<b>SYA East</b>, in the top of the sixth inning, effectively put the game away with a four-run outburst to make the score 10-4 going into West Springfield American’s final at-bats.
West Springfield American, in its final at-bats, got a leadoff infield single from Lewis Holzemer to begin the bottom of the sixth. Following a double play, Ryan was taken out of the game for reliever Brandon Luke, who got the final out of the game on a groundout to shortstop Brusick.
Ryan, in his outing, gave his team a solid effort, allowing four runs and eight hits while striking out six and walking one.
“Sam was great,” said Jamie Brusick. “He’s our most polished pitcher, and pitches in a lot of house and travel [league] games. He struggled [earlier in the tournament versus] Abington. He came out today and was wonderful.”
Ryan was backed by an offense which batted around twice – in the third and sixth innings.
The huge third inning put SYA East in the driver’s seat for good. Trailing 1-0, the inning began when left-handed hitting Kirk, the No. 9 batter, homered over the center field fence to tie the game at 1-1. Gambone, also a left-handed batter, followed Kirk’s round-tripper with one of his own – an opposite field homer over the left field fence to make it 2-1. Bradley then fisted an inside pitch into center field for a single.
That brought up Ryan Brusick, who homered over the left field fence – the third SYA East home run of the inning – to make the score 4-1. Later in the inning, Orie and Gambone, the latter player hitting for the second time in the inning, would both plate runs with RBI infield singles to make it 6-1.
SYA East never lost the lead, although West Springfield American got within striking range with its three runs in the fifth.
But SYA East answered with its second big inning of the night with its four runs in the top of the sixth to put the game away.
Bradley opened that inning with a home run over the left field fence to give his team a 7-4 lead. SYA East would add three more runs later in the inning on RBI singles from Devin Kakar and Kirk, and an RBI walk from Orie.
In all, SYA East tallied 16 hits in the game, three from Gambone and two apiece from Bradley, Brusick, Luke, Kakar, and Kirk.
SYA East lost its first game of the state tournament to Bridgewater, but came back with wins over Danville Nationals, Abington, Loudoun County South, and West Springfield American. Orie tossed a no-hitter in the quarterfinals win, 10-0, over Loudoun County South. At the plate in that win, Brusick belted two homers and Ryan hit a three-run shot.