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August 12, 2022

Gilroy Little League Junior All Star baseball team caps fine season with run to Sectionals

Gilroy Junior All Star team Manager Nelson Villanueva is proud to admit that he’s a baseball lifer, eating, sleeping and breathing all things in the sport.

Because of that, he demands a lot from his players and appreciates their diligence, hard work and willingness to put in the time to improve. Even after being eliminated in the Section 5 Tournament at Manzanita Park in Prunedale on July 17, Villanueva said the boys could hold their heads high. 

“The demand is so high for these kids and they met every single one of them,” Villanueva said. “I told them thank you for staying on board.”

Gilroy won the District 59 championship with a 8-6 victory over Santa Teresa on July 9 at the Sports Complex. Villanueva said the game was close, but the team was in control the entire way. The veteran manager wanted to make sure to utilize the entire roster and give some of the players who hadn’t been receiving extensive playing time into the game. 

Besides, Gilroy needed to be beaten twice because it was the only team in the tournament without a loss entering the championship round. It crushed Evergreen 20-9 to open District action before blanking Milpitas, 10-0, to reach the final round. 

“We pitched by committee because I wanted to make sure we’d still have everyone (pitchers) available Sunday if there was a game Sunday (July 10),” Villanueva said. “The pivotal game was Milpitas and Hayden (Griep) got us through that with three to four innings pitched.”

The roster includes Griep, Kai Bodeman, Jackson Guerriero, Brady Hemeon, Bret Laptolo, Adam Marayag, Jacob Martinez, Zackary Martinez, Brennan Neander, Aaron Noriega Jr., Ayden Quezada, Dylan Robinson, Dominic Valentine and Jeremiah Wilkerson. 

In addition to Villanueva serving as manager, the team had assistant coaches Jim Hemeon and Todd Jensema. The Junior age division is 12-14 and many of the players have been playing together since they started in the Minors Division several years ago. 

Entering the District Tournament, Villanueva felt a couple of the teams would be formidable, but it was his Gilroy squad that turned out to be the class of District 59. Griep, Laptolo and Zack Martinez were three of the many pitchers who delivered consistent outings. 

Griep started against Milpitas, and Villanueva basically went by committee in the Evergreen and Santa Teresa contests. 

“Hayden throws strikes and knows how to pitch,” Villanueva said. “He would be our old reliable if we were ever in that situation. That is the guy we’d look to.”

Laptolo tossed four quality innings against Santa Teresa, leading the team to victory. Martinez pitched five innings over the three games, displaying mental toughness in the process. 

“Zack would be considered our seventh pitcher, but he has the mentality,” Villanueva said. “If I asked if he wanted the ball, he would say, ‘Yes coach, let me throw.’ Then he would step up and get the job done. Bret also did well; he pretty much shut down Santa Teresa and allowed us to go ahead and win that game.”

Villanueva said everyone hit well, and Hemeon hit for average and power as he barreled up balls seemingly every time he got up to bat. Guerriero hit leadoff and set the pace by getting on base. Robinson was often successful advancing Guerriero to second or third base and Hemeon would drive him in. 

Just like that, Gilroy would be up on its opponent, 1-0. Neander also was quite productive offensively. Gilroy didn’t waste any time showing its superiority, scoring 11 runs in the top of the first inning in its opener against Evergreen.  

“We almost batted around twice,” Villanueva said. “It was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I didn’t expect this.’ Going into it, I’m thinking maybe Evergreen, Milpitas, us and Santa Teresa—that’s what I figured.”

Gilroy went 1-2 in the Section 5 Tournament, dropping two games to Ferrasci with a 7-2 win over Lincoln Glen on July 16 sandwiched in between. Gilroy somehow won despite finishing with only two hits, utilizing walks and bunts, including a suicide squeeze in the seventh inning which resulted in an extra run. 

Robinson laid down two textbook bunts, and Marayag pitched two innings to earn the decision win. Gilroy was eliminated the next day by Ferrasci, 18-8. Besides winning the District 59 championship, Villanueva most appreciated the makeup of the group and how they held each other accountable. 

“We have 13 13-year-olds, and some of them will deviate at times and do their own thing,” Villanueva said. “But then once they start doing that, the rest of the 12 kids rope them in as if to say, ‘Nope, you’re taking the wrong turn, kid. Get back on the bus.’ That is what’s most gratifying.”

Jackson Guerriero delivers a pitch in Gilroy’s Section 5 Tournament opener vs. Ferrasci. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Dominic Valentine throws to first base for the assist in Gilroy’s Section 5 Tournament opener. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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