The CNMI-Guam title match in the Inaugural Micronesian Baseball Classic was one for the ages with the host pulling off a thrilling 15-14 victory in extra inning in front of a jampacked crowd at the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Ballfield last Friday.
Catcher Verlance Secharmidal, siblings Juan, Lamarc, and Jesus Iguel, John Tudela, Ben Jones, and Brian Camacho played key roles in the CNMI All-Stars’ come-from-behind win, which seemed to be very hard to accomplish as Guam once led by 11 and was still on top, 14-9, going into the bottom on the ninth and last regular inning.
Camacho led off for the Commonwealth in their final push to avert an impending sorry loss—which could have been the team’s only defeat after sweeping the round-robin preliminaries and beating Guam in their first two meetings. The designated hitter went on to spark the host’s mighty comeback with his solo over-the-fence (in between left and center fields) homer.
The CNMI’s next two batters also reached with Juan Iguel’s single bringing home John Tudela, who pinched run for Byron Kaipat. Juan also scored off brother Lamarc’s single to slice Guam’s lead to one, 13-14, with two outs.
The eventual champion was called for the first out after Guam catcher Miller Santos caught a foul ball from Secharmidal, while the visiting team moved one out away from wrapping up the match and completing the upset when pitcher Jay Taijeron struck out second baseman Anthony Tenorio.
Jesus batted ahead of Tenorio and singled, while Jones was next at bat after the latter headed back to their dugout. Jones let go of Taijeron’s first pitch, while Jesus stole second. Jones then swung and missed for the first strike before letting go off another outside pitch. Taijeron then caught Jones looking for the second strike, but the former kept his composure and made the game-tying hit with his shot landing at left field and Guam struggling to pick the ball up, allowing the sprinting Jesus to reach home.
With the title match in a standoff, the CNMI had a chance to win in regulation as Jones was in first base and Nokki Saralu was at bat next. However, Santos caught a fly from Saralu to end a frustrating bottom of the ninth for Guam and send the game into the extra inning.
After blowing a big lead, Guam’s woes continued as the visibly demoralized team had a 1-2-3 inning at the top of the 10th. Lamarc caught a fly from leadoff batter J.D. San Nicolas, while Santos also flied out at center field. Jacob Concepcion, on the other hand, went down on a 6-3 putout play with Lamarc picking up a grounder and throwing to Kaipat to end the top of the extra inning.
At the bottom, the CNMI had a rough start with Camacho flying out at third base and pitcher Peter Lieto having the same misfortune against Guam shorts stop San Nicolas. Juan was next at bat and kept the Commonwealth’s chances with his single.
With Juan at first, all eyes were now focused on Secharmidal. Taijeron’s first pitch was a bit high and then he got the strike on his second. The CNMI pitcher was charged with another ball on his third pitch, while Juan stole second. One more outside pitch followed by a strike put more pressure on Secharmidal, who rose to the occasion as he swung and hit his target. The ball was a bit high and headed up to first base with Guam’s Mike Peredo leaping to catch it. The Guam first baseman had a hand on the leather, but dropped it, allowing Juan to run home and soon pandemonium broke as the CNMI completed the come-from-behind win and clinched the first championship in the four-nation competition.
“I just kept my focus despite knowing that one more strike and I am out,” Secharmidal said.
Secharmidal and company rallied past Guam after scoring 12 runs in the last five innings of the regulation, while limiting their foes to one run.
Guam, before its monumental collapsed, built a promising 13-2 advantage after four complete innings. Jarred Alerta gave the eventual runner-up a good start with his two-run single at the top of the first. Guam got three more earned runs and one off a wild pitch from Frankie Lieto.
The CNMI countered at the bottom off Camacho’s two-run single, but Guam got the two runs back and added one more, thanks to Miller’s two-run homer in the second. Miller then followed his homer with a two-run single in the third to give Guam its biggest lead, as the CNMI failed to score in the second to fourth inning.
Down, but definitely not out, the Commonwealth bets began fighting back in the fifth inning with Jones blasting a two-run single and also scoring off Camacho’s single. Peter Tomokane added one run when he reached off Guam’s error at shorts stop, while Pat Alepuyo also scored from Tenorio’s sacrifice fly, as the CNMI brought the deficit down to 6, 7-13.
Guam, which went without a run in the fourth and fifth, made one in the sixth off Alerta’s single to keep its safe distance, 14-7, but eventually lost the upper hand when it gone cold anew from the seventh to the extra inning. The visiting team after holding a double-digit lead, seemed to play complacent in the homestretch, while the CNMI tightened up its defense. The CNMI went to the last inning in the regulation behind by only 5 after Juan scored off a balk in the seventh and Jones’ sacrifice fly brought Jesus home in the eighth.
Peter Lieto helped shut down Guam, as he took over the mound from second pitcher Joe Palacios midway in the third inning and after Miller made two more RBIs. He allowed only three hits and one earned run, while walking only two in 7.3 innings pitched. The CNMI closer also had four strikeouts.