Rancho suffers first loss in American Legion region tourney

Chico (Calif.) scored five runs in the top of the first inning Sunday and never looked back in a 15-1 rout of Rancho in the American Legion Western Regional in Surprise, Ariz.

Chico batted around in the first inning and increased its lead to 13-0 in the fifth inning. The top five batters in Chico’s lineup combined to go 12-for-21 with 12 runs and nine RBIs.

“They’re a team of basically all junior college kids, and they play very aggressively,” said Rancho coach Tom Pletsch. “We made a couple of mistakes early, and they took advantage of them. We were playing to win, but when we got behind about 7-0, we made some adjustments and tried to rest some kids.”

Rancho (31-19) already had clinched a spot in Monday’s region final by virtue of winning its first three games of the tournament. The Post 8 Rams were the only team without a loss in the regional entering Sunday’s play.

“We talked before the tournament about winning the first three (games). Once you win the first three, you’re in the driver’s seat and you’re in the championship game,” Pletsch said.

Juan Cruz-Sanchez was 2-for-4 with an RBI for Rancho, which finally got on the board in the sixth inning.

Robert Spinelli led off the bottom of the sixth with a double and scored on Cruz-Sanchez’s single.

Chico will meet the Tucson (Ariz.) Post 7 Badgers at 10 a.m. Monday with that winner advancing to meet Rancho in the title game at 1 p.m.

Pletsch said his No. 1 pitcher, Josh Mill, will be ready and is the likely starter. Mill was the winning pitcher in Rancho’s tournament-opening victory Thursday.

“We still have our No. 1 in a championship game, which is what you want,” Pletsch said. “We’ve got a couple more guys who haven’t thrown yet, who maybe we can get a couple of innings out of.

“Whoever we play has to play a very intense, very emotional, nine-inning game in the heat before they play us.”

The region champion advances to the American Legion World Series, which begins Thursday in Shelby, N.C.

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