Entering the game in relief in the ninth inning — the Storm’s second extra-inning game in a row — Larson got the final two outs with two Jaguars in scoring position, and then singled off the shortstop’s glove for a 6-5 Cleveland (3-0) victory.
The Storm nearly got the victory in regulation; reliever Royce Cleveland was one out away from earning his second victory of the season when Carlos Ramirez’s two-run double in the seventh knotted the game at 5.
Earlier, the Storm got a run in the first on a sacrifice fly by catcher Riley Peterson, celebrating his 16th birthday.
Cleveland made it 3-0 in the second on a double by starter Neil Evans, an RBI single by Jorge Guzman, a double by Landry Hayes and a groundout RBI by Kyler Petty, who’d scored the team’s first run in the bottom of the first.
Valencia (2-1) scored a pair of unearned runs in the third.
The Storm took a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth after Hayes was hit by a pitch and Petty walked; both advanced a base on a sacrifice by Reyes Lujan. Justice Jackson then walked to load the bases, and a single by Peterson, followed by a sacrifice fly off the bat of Kyle Anderson, sent home Hayes and Petty, respectively.
Valencia used a hit batter, stolen base and RBI single to slice the Storm lead to 5-3 in the fifth, then tied the game on the Ramirez two-bagger.
After leaving two base runners stranded in the seventh and unable to score anyone with the bases loaded and two down in the eighth, Cleveland got a leadoff walk to Peterson to start the bottom of the ninth. He headed to second on a wild pitch and then swiped third. Anderson took a called third strike, and Larson slapped the ball to the left of VHS’s shortstop, who could only get a piece of his glove on the ball before it wound up in left field, with Peterson trotting home with the winning run.
“I’ll tell you, Valencia’s a good, scrappy team,” CHS coach Shane Shallenberger said. “It was just a good game. … They made a few good plays today (in the outfield).”
Shallenberger said he was happy with the pitching of Evans and Cleveland, not to mention the big strikeout and groundout induced by Larson (1-0).
“I feel like everybody’s here to pick everybody up,” he said of the team effort, crediting Peterson for having been behind the plate every inning thus far.
Storm warnings: Cleveland heads to Carlsbad Thursday for the three-day Carlsbad tournament.
… Shallenberger said he wanted to tip his cap to the varsity Storm boys basketball team, which turned out in force and sat behind home plate. Senior Desmond Branch’s comments, mostly to Valencia players, showed he may have a career in comedy if football doesn’t work out.
… Former Storm standout Blake Swihart is in the latest issue of Baseball America as the sixth-best catching prospect and 73rd best overall prospect. He appears destined for Class AA Portland (Me.) this spring.
… Cleveland faces visiting Valley in a first-round game of the APS Metro Championships on Tuesday the 18th. The Storm are the 7 seed.