The BSI Aces captured the championship in the 2017 Saipan Baseball League after a close 2-1 victory in Game 4 of their best-of-five title series against the Falcons last Monday night at the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Ballfield.
Ben Jones had a sacrifice fly and stole home for the BSI Aces’ two runs in the low-scoring match, while Manny Cabrera pitched a complete game, allowing only four innings to hand the team the title that they missed last year after being swept in the finals by the Chalan Kanoa Bears.
“After we lost to the Bears last year, the boys were really determined to comeback and redeem themselves. That’s was our motivation all throughout this season so we brought the boys back and got additional players to get things done,” player/coach Luis Iguel said.
Luis along with his brothers Lamarc, Juan, Jesus, and Mike, Barry Sunumai, Angel Falig, John Tudela, Jones, and new recruits Peter Tenorio, Nokki Saralu, Dave Camacho, and Cabrera make up the champion team that won Games 1 (9-3) and 3 (13-9) to boost their title bid. Falcons took Game 2, 12-8.
In Game 4, Jesus led off for the BSI Aces, doubled, and stole third before being driven home by Jones’ sacrifice fly at centerfield. The BSI Aces were held to one run at the top of the first, as Lamarc was stranded at first after Saralu’s linedrive was caught by Falcons first baseman Bradley Lieto and Frankie Lieto struck out Tudela.
The BSI Aces went on to keep the shaky one-run lead after two complete innings as they forced the Falcons to a quick 1-2-3 at the bottom of the first and stranded two runners in the second following a 4-3 putout play on centerfielder J.J. Lifoifoi.
Then in the third inning, the BSI Aces made it a 2-0 advantage after Jones stole home. The BSI Aces centerfielder led off for the squad at the top of the third and was walked by Frankie before stealing second, advancing to third of a sacrifice fly, and eventually making it home.
The scores did not change up to the sixth inning, as the Falcons continued to struggle against the former’s defense and Cabrera’s solid pitching. Cabrera gave up only two hits in the first six innings with the second hit coming from a single from Henry Iguel at the bottom of the third. Henry, however, was stuck at first as Cabrera struck out second batter A.J. Evangelista and Giovanni Mira and Ian Norita went down on a pop fly and 4-3 putout play, respectively.
The Falcons were then called for their second 1-2-3 in the fourth inning and then bungled their chances to score their first run in the fifth inning when Cabrera threw to catcher Sunumai, who tagged out R.J. Riungel. J.J. Lifoifoi also had a good opportunity to reach home, but was left stranded at second when Henry field out at second and Evangelista was charged with a 4-3 putout play.
Despite the missed chances, the Falcons remained in contention as they also shut down the BSI Aces in the ensuing plays. The Falcons then finally ended their silence at the bottom of the seventh as J.J. Lifoifoi’s single brought Goru Iskawa home. Lifoifoi also nearly scored and tied the game when he made it all the way to third with only one out before Cabrera got the needed defensive stops. Cabrera picked up back-to-back grounders from Henry Iguel and Evangelista and threw to first baseman Mike Iguel for the last two outs.
Both teams were called for 1-2-3 in the eighth inning, while the BSI Aces faltered in their bid to gain more cushion with runners on first and second, as Juan Iguel flied out to home for the third out at the top of the ninth inning.
Holding on to a precarious lead, going to the final inning, the BSI Aces put more pressure on the Falcons when the eventual champions booted out the latter’s first two batters. Bradley led off for the Falcons, but his base hit to third base was picked up by Saralu, who made the throw to Mike Iguel ahead of the Falcons runner. Iskawa was next at bat and this time his grounder landed at the hands of shortstop Lamarc Iguel, who threw to his older brother Mike for the second out.
With the BSI Aces one out away from clinching the title, all eyes were on Riungel, who got two balls and was charged with two strikes before hitting his target on Cabrera’s fifth pitch. The ball dropped past Lamarc and he failed to pick it up, allowing Riungel to run safely to first.
The pressure on keeping the Falcons in the game was lifted from Riungel’s shoulder and transferred to J.J. Lifoifoi, who let go of Cabrera’s first two high pitches and one strike before swinging for the fourth one. The ball bounced off the ground and over Cabrera’s head, but the BSI Aces pitcher leaped and caught the ball before throwing to Mike Iguel to end the finals series and hand their team the championship.
“It was very disappointing for us to be swept in the finals so winning this season was very important to us. We were able to sweep the Bears in the semis to avenge our loss and then beat a very hard-working squad in the Falcons in the finals through our team play, camaraderie, and support from our family and sponsor (Imperial Pacific International),” Luis said.