COSTA MESA — It was a win so coveted, it turned parents into paparazzi, too-cool teenage older brothers into sentimental supporters, and silenced crosstown bragging rights that had blared, uninterrupted, for more than a half-decade.
But Saturday's 4-2 baseball victory that gave the Costa Mesa American Little League Majors Division All-Stars their first best-of-three Mayor's Cup series title in seven years, wasn't enough to disconcert 12-year-old winning pitcher Matthew Ingram.
"I knew he was a good choice [to start the game], because he really doesn't get nervous," said Mark Ingram, Matthew's father and a coach filling in for the Costa Mesa American's vacationing manager, Clark Chapman, at Costa Mesa High. "Ever since he was 8, he has wanted the ball in pressure situations."
The younger Ingram not only diffused the pressure of the series' deciding game, he rose above it by striking out nine in the six-inning, complete-game effort that was backed by errorless defense.
Ingram also singled, walked and scored a run to help the winners, for whom six players had hits and nine reached base in a 12-player lineup that was without standout Cameron Chapman (also on vacation).
The Costa Mesa National All-Stars, who won the opening game of the series, 3-0, on Tuesday, managed just three hits against Ingram, but took advantage of some opportunistic defense and some questionable base running by its rival, to maintain suspense until the final out.
Costa Mesa American had its first five batters reach base in the second inning, but produced just one run to break a scoreless tie. One Costa Mesa American runner was nailed off third base in a rundown created during an attempted double-steal. Another runner was gunned down at the plate attempting to tag on a one-out fly ball to right fielder Grant L'Heureux, who caught the ball and threw on the fly to catcher Trevor Pacheco, who applied the tag for the inning-ending double play.
The hosts also had a runner picked off second base, when he ventured too far on a wild pitch to the backstop and had to turn back when the runner at third chose not to risk a sprint toward home plate.
"How many runs did we leave out there? Mark Ingram asked rhetorically about his team's mishaps on the bases. "But I take the blame for those. I'm usually the first-base coach. And hats off to national for the great defense that they played."
"We made a few fortunate plays, or it could have gotten out of hand," Costa Mesa National Manager Pete Strauss said. "They played better than we did all-around. They were the better team today."
Costa Mesa National packed its offense into a single inning, the fifth, when it used all three of its hits to cut the 4-0 deficit in half.
Hayden Pearce opened the National fifth with a single and slid safely ahead of a throw to second on Garrett Palme's subsequent fielder's choice grounder. Rachel Nishitani then loaded the bases with a single.
After a strikeout, L'Heureux plated a run on a groundout and Dylan Delaney followed with a run-scoring single. But a looper to shortstop Omar Munoz ended the threat and Ingram retired the side in order in the sixth to cap what he called the best performance of his career.
"We haven't really won [the Mayor's Cup since 2006], so we kind of wanted to win it," Matthew Ingram said. "We've been playing together for a while and we thought we had a pretty good team."
Mark Ingram said standouts like Matthew Swartz (Thursday's winning pitcher), his son, leadoff man Blake Junker, Chapman, Nick Segovia, and Munoz, helped the coaching staff maintain confidence, even after the series-opening loss. That staff included coaches Matt Richards and Dan Jones.
"In our minds, we thought we were the better team and we were just feeding that to the kids to put that loss aside," Mark Ingram said. "This has been a rivalry, the green [Costa Mesa American] vs. the red [Costa Mesa National] since I was a kid. Growing up, I never had the chance to beat [Costa Mesa National]. We always lost. We were always the butt of the joke. So, to me, this is big. It's a respectful rivalry, for sure, but you always want to come out on top."
Munoz had an RBI single for the winners, for whom Ingram, Junker, Adrien Orosco, Swartz and Adam Axtell also produced singles off two Costa Mesa National pitchers.
Nick Segovia (twice), Lucas Woodruff (twice) and John Koskela reached base for the winners, for whom Jonathan Burton, Jack Jones and Gage Kerley also contributed.
After the game, Costa Mesa American players and coaches posed for several pictures, taken by a swarm of photographers anxious to capture the historic triumph for the ages.