2017 35+ Mountain

Venezuela Oilers 14, UAG Tainos 7

‘Villalta and Gonzalez Lead the Offense’

By Chris Errington, special to MSBL

November 18, 2017Clearwater, FL – Entering the 2017 Fall Classic, Alexis Villalta wasn’t scheduled to be one of Venezuela’s starting outfielders. By the time the Oilers had convincingly won the championship, he was their MVP.

Villalta, who got his first playing time in the tournament’s second game, finished a stellar week with a pair of hits and runs scored, while Jorge Gonzalez went 4-for-4 with four runs scored and two RBI as Venezuela took advantage of uncharacteristically sloppy UAG defense to win its first title.

“We came here to be a champion,” Venezuela manager Eleis Saba said through an interpreter. “We knew we had a great team and practiced hard in Venezuela for this tournament. We definitely had a lot of confidence this week.”

Villalta and Gonzalez helped pace an offensive attack that accounted for 17 hits and scored in six of their eight innings at bat. Luis Duque, Richard Romero and Jhonatan Jaspe, Venezuela’s two, three and four hitters, combined for five hits, five runs scored and four RBI.

With a line-up designed to score runs in bunches, the Oilers did exactly that in their first title game. The offensive mindset was never more important than during the critical fourth inning.

Venezuela appeared in command, riding a strong start by lankly left-hander Jean Contreras and a trio of runs in its first two at-bats to a 3-0 lead. Then, without warning, the bottom of Tainos’ order sparked a surprising three-run uprising to tie the game. The Oilers used a crucial David Perez sacrifice fly to retake the lead a half-inning later, but it was a 30-minute bottom of the fourth that ultimately decided the championship.

With one out and a man on first, Villalta, hitting 10th, reached on an infield single. Gonzalez followed with an RBI double down the first base line and a 5-3 lead, before a walk and wild pitch pushed the advantage to 7-3. When Jaspe’s two-out short fly ball to center was misplayed into a single, and a throwing error – one of five on the day for UAG – followed, another run scored and essentially put the game away.

Not to be outdone, Andres Luchesi added a back-breaking single to left to plate the final run of the outburst and give Venezuela an insurmountable 9-3 lead.

“That fourth inning was tough,” UAG manager Tommy Linda said. “The mental and physical errors were surprising, because we’d been solid defensively all week. But give [Venezuela] credit. They hit the ball well. “It’s a long ride home after a loss in the eighth game.”

For Saba, Villalta and Gonzalez sparking the five-run outburst was as expected as it was effective. “When [Villalta] got in the line-up, he didn’t want to come out,” the manager said. “He always plays like it’s his last game.

“[Gonzalez] was excellent. He played well all week and is the heart of this team.”

With the newly acquired six-run cushion, Contreras went about ensuring there would be no second Tainos comeback. Contreras was eventually replaced, but not after tossing seven innings of six-hit ball. Still, it was during this critical stretch that he was at his best.

The lefty used a dominant fastball and sharp-breaking curve to keep UAG hitters off-balance much of the day. Contreras retired 13 of the final 16 batters he faced, resulting in four consecutive scoreless innings when Venezuela desperately needed them. “Jean had excellent command and mixed his pitches well,” Saba said. “He did a great job for us.”

Contreras was removed to begin the eighth and even though four consecutive runners reached and scored to open the inning, including Ivan Reid’s two-run single to right, it wasn’t enough to overcome the insurmountable deficit. Reid and teammate Clarence White both finished with a pair of hits on the day, while Jimmy Hampton and Alex Ramirez combined for two hits, two runs scored and an RBI. Still, despite their effort, for UAG, the loss was the second in three championship game appearances during the past four years. “I’m glad with the way the guys battled, but we put ourselves in such a hole,” Linda said. “We didn’t have our prettiest day out there.”

For Venezuela, the victory capped an unbeaten week as it finished 5-0 in round-robin play before defeating the Puerto Rico Mets (5-1) and Bluecats (13-4) in the playoffs.

UAG was nearly as impressive, going 4-1 during the round-robin portion of the tournament. The Tainos then topped the Long Island Brewers 10-6, before reaching the title game with a thrilling 12-10 victory over the Central Ohio Reds.

UAG           003    000    040 –   7   8  5

Venezuela   211    530    02x – 14 17 4

WP: Contreras. LP: White. Pitching: White, Barrow (4) and Garcia (UAG). Contreras, Urdaneta (8) and Jaspe (VEN). 2B: (V). Ramirez and Hampton (UAG). Gonzalez (VEN)