James Burns: Bel Passi Thunder 10s rally past Utah at West Zone Championships

The Bel Passi Thunder have won seven consecutive games and ride a wave of momentum into the second round of the West Zone Championships in Los Alamitos.

There’s just one problem: Waves don’t scare its next opponent.

The Thunder 10s showed grit in Thursday’s opener, rallying from 4-3 deficit to post a 9-6 victory over the Utah state champion. The game featured seven lead changes and wasn’t decided until the seventh inning.

“The kids played a really good Utah team and it was a battle, back and forth,” said Bel Passi coach Kelly Wheelock, whose club squandered an early 3-0 lead. “We went down 4-3 in the fourth and came back to tie it up and then won it in the seventh. The kids really competed.”

Andrew Balentine scored the go-ahead run on an error in the seventh to give the Northern California champions the lead for good. Bel Passi (36-6-1) scored three times in the seventh inning to move one step closer to the program’s first Pony World Series berth.

Standing in the Thunder’s way are a band of all-stars from Maui. The Hawaiians upset Mid Valley of Southern California, a team Wheelock said was favored to win the West Zone title.

In the end, the score wasn’t even close: 9-2 in favor of Maui.

The margin of victory gave Wheelock some concern before their game Friday evening. The score wasn’t available by press time.

“Today’s game could be a good one,” Wheelock said. “We play Maui and they beat the team that was favored to win the thing, 9-2. The boys are excited to play, so let’s show up and play.”

Wheelock didn’t get a chance to scout Maui, but believes this to be true of every team still alive this late in the season: “From what I hear they are quick, pitch well, hit well and play good ‘D,’” he said. “I’m guessing just like all the other teams.”

Bel Passi will have a full complement of pitchers to throw at Maui. Wheelock said his son Titus Wheelock, Jadon Aguilar, Derek Osgood and Balentine all were available to pitch Friday evening.

Aguilar worked the first three innings of Thursday’s game, while Balentine and Osgood came on in relief. Osgood pitched the final three innings to notch the win, allowing no earned runs on two hits.

The Thunder attacked Utah early, plating three runs in the top of the first innig. Osgood sparked the furry with a single and then stole second base. He scored on Wheelock’s double. Balentine and Aguilar also drove in runs to stake Bel Passi to a 3-0 lead.

Utah cut into the lead with runs in the first and third innings, and then took a 4-3 lead with a two-run fourth. The Thunder answered with a three-run fifth inning to make it 6-4, but gave up the tying runs in the bottom of the frame.

Balentine started the seventh inning with a leadoff walk. He eventually scored the eventual game-winning run on a balk. Aguilar (error) and Braden Walker (walk) tacked on insurances runs on RBI singles by Ethan Macias and Camden Miller.

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