When a team makes noise in the regular season, it usually wears a target on its back heading in to the playoffs.
Steve Stone pitched 3 1/3 solid innings and the Continental Little League Red Diamondbacks knocked the No. 1-seeded CLL Gray D-backs from the majors city tournament on Friday on Field Two in five innings, earning a chance to nix another top seed from the bracket.
The second-seeded Red D-backs get the weekend off after grinding through the losers bracket and winning on back-to-back days against teams within its own league. Next up is WFLL Black, the No. 1 seed and the team with the best record entering the annual tournament.
"We are getting what we wanted," said the elder Steve Stone, Red's manager. "We are going to come full blast at them."
That's how they started Friday's game at the Continental Little League Fields, as Red owned a 7-1 lead after three innings thanks to Junior Stone and Connor Allen each connecting for two-run doubles in the top of the third inning. The damage started with Daniel Ignacio Gonzalez reaching on a hit-by-pitch call followed by a double from Kaden Clinger, and Jackson Clouse earning a walk.
Junior Stone added to his cause with a 2-for-2 day and a reach on a fielder's choice, and Allen was 1 for 2. The right-handed starting pitcher allowed two earned runs on three hits while striking out seven batters and walking one.
Junior Stone had some early run support and solid defensive efforts from the start. Travis Gates put Red on the board with a sacrifice fly, scoring Ezra Merrell, and Junior Stone raced home on the throw in that drew the catcher away from the unguarded plate for a two-run lead.
An unearned run from Gray's Tyler Sevier made it 2-1 after one inning, but Junior Stone settled in and sat down the side in order in the second and third innings. Red got out of the opening inning by catching a Gray runner trying to cross home a double-steal attempt.
"As visitors, the pitcher can just go out there, relax and throw strikes and he's hitting his spots," Red's skipper said.
Maddox Knott, who was 1 for 2 with an RBI, got Red close to the run rule in the top of the fifth when he singled in a teammate, with another run following on throwing errors for a 12-3 lead. A run scored on a wild pitch would make it 13-3 and Red would go on to score six runs in the frame for a commanding lead.
Red's relief pitcher Landon Stewart kept Gray at bay, going 1-2-3 in the fifth to close it up after taking over in the fourth.
Gavin Woodruff finished 1 for 1 with an RBI and a walk, Sevier was 2 for 2, but Gray managed just four total hits. Gray's Francisco Avila grounded out for an RBI.
CLL Red will face WFLL Black Monday at 6 p.m. on Dawson Field.
"We've been doing a good job at keeping our pitchers available and we have the weekend ahead of us," Stone said. "We have our top two pitchers, Ezra Merrell and Junior Stone, ready and our bats are hot right now and they'll be ready."
WFLL BLACK 4, WFLL PINSTRIPE 0
Drew Smith threw a complete game and scored all of his team's runs on homers, and the No. 1-seeded Black D-backs grinded out a shutout win over the No. 4-seeded WFLL Pinstripe D-backs Friday on Dawson Field.
The win keeps Black in the losers bracket with plenty of days to rest pitchers heading into's Monday battle with CLL Red.
Smith was 2 for 2, hitting two-run dingers in the bottom of the first and fourth frames. His shot in the first inning came with two outs recorded, the second with none.
Parker Clifford took the mound for Pinstripe, which was nixed from the tourney with the loss. He allowed the four earned runs on seven hits and recorded eight strikeouts.
Smith was just as good on the mound as the plate, ringing up 15 batters via the strikeout while issuing no walks and allowing just two hits.
WFLL GRAY 11, WFLL BRICK 1
When it comes to the Flagstaff Little League City Majors Tournament, it’s all about peaking at the right time.
Throughout the season, West Flagstaff Little League Gray Diamondbacks manager Rory Faust made sure to keep his ace Jake Hanley fresh by getting all 12 of his ballplayers time on the bump.
That time away from pitching may have been frustrating for Hanley, his skipper noted. But it worked out just fine.
WFLL Gray run ruled WFLL Brick 11-1 Friday night at the Continental Little League Fields, clinching their spot in the finals.
Hanley pitched a dominant performance at Dawson Field, allowing only two hits while striking out 10 batters -- including seven of the first nine he faced. He walked one batter and hit another as he also had two RBIs to help himself out.
“First of all, that Brick team was on quite a roll,” Faust said. “They scored double-digit runs the first two tournament games and they can flat out hit the ball. I got to give them credit. You saw at the end there, they started hitting the ball, and I think that’s a testament to Jake Hanley. He’s been our guy all year. … I never threw Jake out to his maximum pitches all season, and he’s a competitor, he wants the ball. He wants to go as long as he can go.”
The only two hits that No. 3-seeded Brick could muster came in a spurt in the top of the fourth inning, a quick burst that kept the game alive for a bit longer.
Down 10-0 entering the frame, Brick rattled off back-to-back singles by Payne Lowry and Canyon Kirkman. Payne then came in off a passed ball to keep the game from ending on the mercy rule, snapping the shutout in the process.
Hanley ended the inning with two straight strikeouts, going back to what he had done all game in keeping Brick, which was playing its second game in as many days and third of the tourney, from finding any contact.
Faust said his assistant coach Wayne Hanley, Jake Hanley’s dad and the team’s pitching coach, called great game from the dugout.
Gray did the bulk of its damage offensively in the first and second innings, scoring three and seven runs respectively off Brick pitcher Kirkman.
Ayden Francom led Gray with three RBIs, going 2 for 2 at the plate while Jake Hanley and Dylan Callado each had two RBIs. Callado went 1 for 2 and brought in the winning run in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice RBI.
“Our boys just went out there and swung,” Faust said.
Gray will have to wait through the weekend to see who they will face in Wednesday’s title game.
WFLL Brick will face the winner of CLL Red and WFLL Black Tuesday with a shot at the title game on the line.
-- Lance Hartzler,
Sun Sports Reporter