Sports

Visalia wins Cal Ripken World Series

VISALIA -- Noah Flores, Matthew Montelongo and Isaiah Espínoza made their summer training sessions -- two hours in the morning, and two hours in the evening -- pay off in the Cal Ripken Major/60 World Series.

Espínoza hammered a 3-run home run in the fourth inning of a 10-0 win over South Lexington, Ky. to capture the Cal Ripken World Series last Friday.

The victory sent the entire Visalia team into a dogpile at the infield of Clyde Soto Field before an announced crowd of 6,300 fans at Visalia Riverway Sports Complex.

Visalia became the first host team to capture a Cal Ripken World Series.

Unbeaten in five games heading into the championship game of the 10-team tournament -- which also included Buchanan (Clovis) and Bakersfield -- Visalia scored three runs against South Lexington on wild pitches in the first inning; one run in the second, one in the third, and five runs in the fourth inning.

Frank Durazo, a 24-year baseball coaching veteran, said the players committed themselves to practices all summer.

"This team, when the game is big, plays better," Durazo. "They've been in situations where the pressure is intense, and they've always done everything perfect."

Several players "took a knee" in the outfield and gathered for a final huddle, congratulating the coaching staff and parents for all the pushing and prodding this summer.

"We were practicing every day for this, at least like two hours a day in the morning, and then two more hours at night" said Espinoza, a 13-year-old first baseman. "We worked hard in all the practices, and today, we played our game and scored."

Visalia was nothing less than brilliant, said Durazo, a civil engineer whose team lost once during the entire season.

"This is the second championship that my team has won," said Durazo, whose Visalia U-10 team won in 2006 in Louisiana.

Durazo, an Arizonan who moved to Visalia in 1986, soon realized the area's strong support for youth baseball.

"It's a great event, and it's great here. You can see from the crowd tonight, it was electric. It was just awesome," he said.

Visalia captured the 2002 Cal Ripken World Series.

Visalia's starting pitcher Jace Chamberlin, who struck out 9 of 16 batters, batted a tournament-record .800.

Espínoza, Montelongo, Jordan Prendiz and Chamberlin signed baseballs and posed for photos with family and friends, while doing post-game media interviews.

"I wish I had these teammates at my school, and with me all my life," said Montelongo, an eighth-grade at shortstop who used SuperGlue on his hand to keep a cut from opening.

"Now, I'll play football."

Espínoza, who began playing baseball at age 6, said he took energy from his parents, Lisa and Carlos Espínoza, and some 25 more relatives who nervously screamed and cheered from the parents' stands near the Visalia dugout.

"I've never played in front of so many people before, but after the first pitch was made, I felt comfortable here," said Espínoza, who goes by the nickname "Espy."

"This has been something these boys have been working on since they were 8 years old, playing together as an all-star team," said Ernie Flores, parent of infielder Noah Flores, before the game. "This is the pinnacle, the ultimate goal these boys have set. Win or lose, we're proud of our boys."

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dcasarez@vidaenelvalle.com

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