Behind the outfield fence, someone flew a huge white kite during the top of the first inning of the Mayor's Cup. The kite became a distraction for the first couple of hitters.
When the third hitter stepped into the batter's box, the home plate umpire stopped the game. He ordered a fan to inform the kite flier to bring down his kite. Then a fan yelled that the kite was part of the Costa Mesa National Little League Major Division All-Stars' secret weapon against Costa Mesa American Little League.
Johnny Hopkins proved to be all Costa Mesa National needed. He used his big right arm to stop Costa Mesa American in the opening game of the best-of-three Mayor's Cup. The 12-year-old struck out eight in his first three innings, and by then Costa Mesa National put across enough runs to support Hopkins in a 3-1 win at TeWinkle Intermediate School on Tuesday.
Hopkins struck out 10 and allowed one run and two hits, while walking three in four innings. The performance is what Coach Roger Turk comes to expect out of Hopkins.
"He's been in our league for seven years," said Turk, who saw Hopkins throw 67 pitches, 43 for strikes.
Hopkins gave way to Grant L'Heureux in the fifth, and L'Heureux finished off Costa Mesa American, the defending Mayor's Cup champion. The reliever went two innings, mowing down the last four hitters he faced, and no one reached base.
Costa Mesa National is one win away from reclaiming the trophy. Its six-year run as champion ended last year. If Costa Mesa National can beat Costa Mesa American at Costa Mesa High on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., the trophy returns to Costa Mesa National.
"I'm just looking forward to a good ballgame, and whoever they throw, we're going to do our best with the best we got," Turk said.
Hopkins and L'Heureux gave the Costa Mesa American hitters fits all evening. The only two hits the visitors recorded were infield singles by Terry Cowley and Joey Santos, coming in the third and fourth innings, respectively.
Cowley broke up Hopkins' no-hitter when his pop-up toward first base dropped. Hopkins fanned the next two hitters, and induced a groundball for the third out. Costa Mesa National kept its 3-0 lead.
The defense behind Hopkins tried to keep the shutout going in the fourth. Malia Tufuga, playing second base, made a nice catch of a line drive hit by Tyler Corkhill. But Santos reached base on a tough grounder to third base. Santos stole second, and then motored to third. Santos eventually scored. After Hopkins struck out a hitter, the ball got away from the catcher and Santos made it home safely and the hitter reached first base.
Ian Schilling helped Hopkins get out of the fourth relatively unscathed. With runners in scoring position and two outs, the shortstop fielded a short hopper and fired to first base, where Joey Palmblade leaped to catch the ball before landing on the first-base bag for the third out.
"We made plays all over the place, got in front of every ball, and made some awesome fielding," Turk said.
"We told the boys to hustle, try their best, and be respectful to the game."
The hard work paid off in the bottom of the first inning in which Costa Mesa National scored twice. Left-handed starter Ryan Juncker used three pitches to record two outs, but one hit L'Heureux. Myles Witte brought L'Heureux home with a bloop single to right field, and Palmblade drove Witte in on a single to center field.
Witte barely made it. Luke Jones almost threw out Witte at the plate. Coach Mark Ingram said Jones and the catcher, Luis Munoz, are two 10-year-olds on the Costa Mesa American team, which lost four players, two to vacation, one to relocation, and another to a broken nose. Costa Mesa American wore a patch for the injured player, JoJo Regalado.
"We're kind of playing for him," Ingram said. "Last year, [Costa Mesa] National won the first game and we came back and won the last two, so we're going to follow the same pattern here."