FARMINGTON — Even Mother Nature couldn't stop Naa'taanii from beating Strike Zone Baseball in the third round of the Connie Mack City Tournament.
The two teams squared off in a downpour at Ricketts Park on Friday night before the game was postponed after one complete inning. Fifteen hours later, the two teams were back on the diamond ready to finish the game.
Naa'taanii took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning Friday night thanks largely to a Strike Zone throwing error on a ground ball that would have ended the inning without a run being scored. Naa'taanii pitcher Caleb Prentiss held Strike Zone scoreless for an inning before the game was called.
Prentiss did more of the same on Saturday afternoon, holding Strike Zone to just four hits over seven innings as he finished a complete game shutout to give Naa'taanii a 5-0 win. The win puts Naa'taanii within two victories of hosting the Connie Mack World Series for the first time in team history.
"The guys are grinding out and sticking to our plan. They are fighting, and the kids are hungry for it," said Naa'taanii head coach Tim Campos. "They want it bad. We still have a long way to go. By no means are teams going to lay down for us."
Prentiss was able to keep the Strike Zone lineup out of sync at the plate, mixing up his pitches and working quickly through hitters. He had six strikeouts and issued just one walk, which came in the first inning on Friday night. Two of Strike Zone's four hits came in the bottom of the seventh after Naa'taanii had added two insurance runs in the top of the inning on a Zach Hinojos home run.
"He freaking threw a great game. He kept us off-balance. His sequences were tough, and he executed his game plan, and we didn't make adjustments," said Strike Zone head coach Adam Morrissey of Prentiss. "He beat us out there. I told the guys, the reason we lost the game was he was smarter than us out there. We have to have a short memory and refocus. There is nothing we can do about the loss, and this is the situation we are now given going forward."
Prentiss, an incoming senior at Carlsbad High School, faced Strike Zone for the first time and was more than happy with his effort over the past two days.
"I was extremely confident. Strike Zone has a lot of good hitters in their lineup. But we came out swinging, too, and we played good defense," Prentiss said. "Strike Zone can definitely hit, but my stuff was on. Everyone says they are one of the better teams in town, and I was fortunate to get the rock and get it done for my team."
Strike Zone decided against pitching Jacy Cave on Saturday after he went one inning on Friday. Cave allowed three unearned runs in the inning and faced nine batters.
On Saturday, Matt Huffhines got the ball for Strike Zone. He pitched well over six innings, allowing just two earned runs on the Hinojos home run. He worked out of trouble several times, including a bases loaded with no outs situation in the top of the fourth inning.
"Huffy pitched well enough to get the win. We just didn't make adjustments at the plate," Morrissey said.
Huffhines gave up eight hits and walked two. He recorded four strikeouts.
Though Naa'taanii picked up the crucial win to stay undefeated and guarantee themselves a place in the championship round on Sunday, the team lost leadoff man Broc Landreth when he rolled his ankle while trying to reverse direction on the base paths before being doubled off on a hard line drive hit to second base.
"We had a lot go down with our leadoff man and his ankle. We hope to get him back. Unfortunate things happened, but this is a good team and we have to continue to fight hard," Campos said.
Though Strike Zone, the three-time defending city champions, moved within one loss of elimination, Morrissey is still pleased with the way his pitching is set up to make a run at beating Naa'taanii twice on Sunday to win the tournament.
"We definitely have Ian Doughty, Jacy Cave, Ben Wiley and Indalecio Romo can come back Sunday," Morrissey said. "Going forward, we are exactly where we want to be with our pitching staff. We set that up pretty well, and we still have our No. 1 and No. 2 left in the tank."