Flashback: One for the ages


In this July 1, 2016 file photo, the CNMI’s Brian Camacho prepares to swing en route to a solo homer at the bottom of the ninth inning of their title match against Guam in the Inaugural Micronesian Baseball Classic at the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Ballfield. (Saipan Tribune)

It would be a while before baseball action returns in the CNMI due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So to quench your thirst for exciting games at the fabled Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Ballfield, let’s relive the title match between the CNMI and Guam in the Inaugural Micronesian Baseball Classic.

Incidentally, that championship match took place on July 1, four years ago, with the host squad making the mother of all comebacks after eking out a 15-14 victory in extra inning.

Guam seemed poised to hand the CNMI and its adoring crowd a heartbreaker, taking a promising 13-2 lead after four complete innings. The Commonwealth sluggers, as expected, rallied, but things still did not look good for the hometown team, as Guam kept the upper hand, 14-10, going into the bottom of the ninth inning—supposedly the last in the title match.

In the face of an impending loss, catcher Verlance Secharmidal, siblings Juan, Lamarc, and Jesus Iguel, John Tudela, Ben Jones, and Brian Camacho teamed up in turning the CNMI’s fortunes and giving the Henry Lizama-managed squad an epic win.

In this July 1, 2016 file photo, the CNMI players and their coaches and manager flash the No. 1 sign after beating Guam, 15-14, in the finals of the Inaugural Micronesian Baseball Classic at the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Ballfield. (Saipan Tribune)

Camacho led off for the CNMI at the bottom of the ninth and scored an over-the-fence homer to give the team momentum. Next up was Juan Iguel, whose single drove in John Tudela, while the former also scored courtesy of his brother Lamarc’s single to bring the CNMI within one, 13-14.

With the host team threatening, Guam just needed one big stop to hang on to the win and take the inaugural MBC crown, as the CNMI was called for two outs in between the three runs it gained.

One out and it’s all over. That scenario repeatedly flashed into Jones’ mind. He swung on pitcher Jay Taijeron’s second pitch and missed, leaving Jesus Iguel at first. Jones then let go Taijeron’s outside throw, but was caught looking off the latter’s fourth pitch for the second strike.

Pressure mounted on Jones, as Guam closed in on the title, but the CNMI slugger kept his poise and hit the ball that landed at left field and Guam struggling to pick the ball up, giving Jesus time to reach home and tie the game, 14-all.

The CNMI’s Ben Jones checks on the umpire after diving home during the bottom of the first inning of their semis game against Guam in the Inaugural Micronesian Baseball Classic at the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Ballfield. (Saipan Tribune)

The CNMI had the chance to win the match right in the regulation as Jones made it to first and Nokki Saralu was batting next. However, Saralu flied out, sending the finale to extra inning.

Now back to business after falling behind in the majority of the championship game and its morale boosted by the supportive crowd, the CNMI moved a step close to completing the comeback after forcing Guam to a 1-2-3 at the top of the 10th inning.

Done on defense, the CNMI now had to work on offense at the bottom of the 10th inning, as it needed just one run to finally wrap up the finals. Some anxious moments in the early part of the deciding inning delayed the CNMI’s celebration, as Camacho and Peter Lieto flied out for the first two outs.

Juan Iguel then singled to foil Guam’s bid to extend the game. With Juan at first, it’s now Secharmidal’s turn on the spotlight with his make-or-break performance at bat. He passed on the first ball from Taijeron and was called for a strike in the second. Up against a way much taller pitcher, Secharmidal let go of another high throw from Taijeron while Juan stole second. Full count was eventually called on Secharmidal and with the title and the CNMI’s pride on the line, he took the next pitch. The CNMI catcher hit the ball while Guam first baseman Mike Peredo failed to catch the leather, allowing Juan reach home and deliver the win that remained the talk of town in the baseball-crazed island for awhile even after the inaugural MBC had already concluded.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.
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