On two occasions during the top of the seventh inning, Live Oak High teammates Landon Stump and Dominic Periera blasted out of the dugout and sprinted furiously down the left-field line to recover a foul ball. Landon won the first “race” while Periera won the second. The two had to do something to make things interesting as Tuesday’s game against Branham was seemingly never going to end.
The Acorns’ 22-9 win took 3 ½ plus hours and improved their record to a perfect 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the Blossom Valley League’s Mount Hamilton Division. Live Oak is no stranger to marathon contests, as its 10-9, 8-inning win over Leigh on April 14 took nearly four hours to complete.
“We’re winning the close ones, we’re winning the not so close ones, and everyone is finding a way to contribute and doing their job,” Acorns coach Matt Brotherton said. “We’ve got really good character on this team. The talent level is extremely high and they haven’t rested on that. They work hard.”
Brotherton and last year’s seniors on the team had reason to be particularly disappointed after the 2020 season was cancelled just a week into play because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We didn’t get a chance to find out how good we could’ve been last year,” Brotherton said. “But it was a pretty stacked team.”
However, this year’s squad seemingly has all the pieces to make a Central Coast Section championship run. In sophomores Aidan Keenan and Landon Stump, the Acorns have two starting pitchers who have already made verbal commitments to play for Division I programs at Cal and Oregon, respectively.
“Landon and Aidan will be carrying the bulk of the innings for the rest of the year and the next three years hopefully,” Brotherton said. “They’re incredibly talented kids and they have the right attitude. They work hard and keep wanting to get better, which usually doesn’t happen when a guy is so much better than the rest of them because they usually rest on their talent. But these kids worked all off-season to improve.”
Keenan experienced perhaps the most dynamic growth of any player in the area, as he gained 30 to 40 pounds from his freshman to sophomore year and went from throwing in the mid 70 mph range to consistently in the upper 80s.
“Covid actually helped Aidan because he got to work out the whole time without having to worry about performing,” Brotherton said. “He went from 75 to 89 over the Covid period and that’s how he got the verbal commitment to Cal because they saw him at a summer league tournament last year.”
Stump, who struck out eight and allowed just two hits in four shutout innings, is rated the No. 5 player in the California class of 2023 rankings list by Prep Baseball Report. The Acorns are deep in pitching and have a talented lineup that finished with 17 hits against Branham, including three bunt singles. A lost art in today’s game, Live Oak received bunt singles from Cole Wilson, Josh Elam and Diego Castellanos. All three have tremendous speed and shoot down the line in an instant.
“We feel like with our pitching every team will show up to play their best against us,” Brotherton said. “We’re ranked No. 2 in CCS, so we kind of have a target on us. We’re going to be in some tight ballgames and probably going to need to bunt to win here and there. Today we kind of opened it up with the bunts. We’re still trying to play (fundamental) baseball.”
Justin Kester-Johnson had three doubles and three RBI; Patrick Kissee was hit by a pitch three times and reached base two additional times with a single and walk; Tyler Klopp had a double, triple and two walks while scoring five times; Elam had three hits and reached base two additional times on a walk and catcher’s interference; and Drew Becks stroked a three-run triple as part of a seven-run sixth inning that gave the Acorns a 20-9 cushion.
Branham stunned Live Oak with a nine-run fifth just moments earlier, cutting its deficit to 13-9. With the game dragging on, the players lost their edge for a brief moment, allowing the Bruins to roar back. However, the Acorns responded with a seven-run outburst to seal the outcome.
“The character of the team is incredible,” Brotherton said. “Any time a team puts a big inning on us, we come back with a big or bigger inning.”
Live Oak scored a run in every single inning, including a four-spot in both the first and fourth innings. Tyler Madden had two hits and a pair of walks, Mateo Torres went 2 for 3 with four RBI, and Castellanos went 2 for 3.
Stump and Klopp—who went the final two innings—were the only two of the 10 pitchers who appeared in the game who didn’t get roughed up while on the mound. So far, the Acorns have no weak spots in the lineup, as the Nos. 7 through 9 hitters reached base a combined 13 times against Branham. In a nail-biting 6-5 win over Leland on April 22, Torres’ run-scoring squeeze bunt proved key.
“Right now we don’t have any easy outs one through nine,” Brotherton said. “We’re playing really well and it’s really fun to coach talent like this. They make a coach look good.”