Will Lester / SAN BERNARDINO SUN
Published Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 | 12:36 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 | 7:33 p.m.
Legacy Little League’s quest to reach the Little League World Series will continue without manager Todd Slusher in the Western Regional semifinals Friday in San Bernardino, Calif.
Slusher was suspended indefinitely by tournament officials, who claim he ordered his players to allow a run to intentionally score Wednesday night in Legacy’s 12-9 extra-inning victory against Arizona. That run tied the game and gave Legacy another turn to hit, which allowed Slusher to insert a player from his bench who hadn't received an at bat as guaranteed by the league's minimum participation requirement.
With Legacy leading 7-6 in the top of the sixth and final inning, officials accuse Slusher of coordinating with his pitcher to throw a series of passed balls to advance Arizona’s would-be tying baserunner from first base. Once the game was tied, Slusher inserted Legacy’s lone player who had yet to have a plate appearance.
League rules dictate all players must play three outs in the field and bat once. If not, the manager would be suspended for two games. In Slusher’s case, that would have been the semifinals and possibly finals of the regional with his team two games away for the Williamsport, Pa., and the series.
“It is clear on the video that (Slusher) instructed his kids to play poorly to allow a run to score,” said Lance Van Auken, a representative for Little League’s media relations department.
There was speculation Thursday that Legacy would have to forfeit its victory, a dramatic come-from-behind win where it scored five runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to advance. But officials say the team’s spot in the semifinals was never in question.
Slusher claims he didn’t instruct players to allow the run to score. Pitcher Dylan Pletsch’s two passed balls were both fastballs clocked at more than 70 mph from 46-feet away and Legacy’s backup catcher struggled adjusting to the velocity, Slusher said.
“For them to say I engineered this is absolutely ridiculous,” Slusher said. “I hadn’t even finished celebrating with my son and the (tournament director) was over there saying we cheated. Nobody from the other team protested, but the tournament director decided he was going to enforce the rule.”
Slusher was told by officials that he had until 1 p.m. Thursday to submit an incident report and his score book from the game. He said the meeting got postponed until 3:30 p.m., and when he arrived, he was greeted with the news. There was no review process, just a decision, he said.
“It’s up to the umpire during the game to evoke the penalty and in our case the umpire said nothing,” Slusher said. “There are no grounds to kick me out of the tournament.”
Slusher said he has contacted his attorney but didn’t seem optimistic. “They say the decision is final and won’t be reviewed,” he said.
Assistant T.J. Johnson will coach the remainder of the summer, which Slusher hopes includes his team becoming the first Nevada squad to qualify for the series. Legacy plays Southern California in the semifinals.
“I’ve put in endless hours over the years coaching my son and the other kids,” Slusher said. “This is not right.”
The controversy took away from Legacy's memorable comeback. Arizona scored twice in its half of the seventh for a 9-7 lead before Legacy rallied.
Noah Slusher, the coach’s son, had a RBI single to cut Legacy’s deficit to 9-8. With the bases loaded, Jarod Penniman followed by advancing on a fielder’s choice — he beat out a throw to first base after an error by Arizona’s third baseman — to even the game at nine and set the table for Matt Almodovar.
Almodovar hit a curve ball over the fence in the left field for a three-run, game-ending home run to ignite a celebration for the ages. All five of Legacy's runs came with two outs.
“I had people coming up to me after the game — people who have worked the tournament for years — saying it was the most amazing comeback they have seen,” Slusher said.
Almodovar admits he was nervous as he walked to the plate. But the 12-year-old soon became the toast of the tournament.
“Everyone was yelling and screaming for me. They were happy,” Almodovar said. “I knew I could get a hit if I tried my hardest.”
Almodovar wasn’t Legacy’s lone hero.
Pletsch had a pair of home runs — Pletsch and Almodovar hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning for a 2-0 lead — and Jarrett Perns hit a grand slam in the fifth inning to erase a 6-3 deficit.
Now Legacy will have to continue without its coach and its top pitchers. Pletsch and Ryan Jackson, the team’s aces, both exceeded the league’s 85 pitch maximum against Arizona and won’t be eligible to pitch in the semifinals.
Legacy is playing with an us against the world mentality.
“Someone has an agenda against us,” Slusher said. “They were calling us cheaters and trying to escalate the situation. Here we all are, celebrating with our kids after this great game, and they ruined the moment. This is supposed to be Little League baseball.”
Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].