The odds seemed insurmountable.
Thirteen eight-under baseball players representing only four teams in the humble Riverbank Youth Baseball-Softball Association recreation program were pitted against the very best from Modesto’s Bel Passi, Ceres, Atwater and Oakdale leagues in pool and bracket play at the Bel Passi Invitational All-Star Tournament from June 19 to 26.
With the larger and more reputable leagues’ sporting a serious advantage in the all-star selection process, the chances of Riverbank escaping Modesto with a bracket championship were about the same as a snowball forming in these scalding summer afternoons.
And then it happened.
Riverbank rolled through pool play with a 3-1 rush, jumped ahead of No. 1 seed and previously unbeaten Atwater with a furious semifinal performance, then shellacked Oakdale, a town enriched in baseball history, with a 14-5 championship stunner.
It was a saga to behold.
“It is really hard to get a lot of kids to join the Riverbank youth recreation baseball program, because a lot of the kids are going to Bel Passi down the street,” Riverbank All Star coach Jason Soriano said. “For us to put an all-star squad together out of our four teams and win that Bel Passi Tournament Championship was just great for the kids, great for Riverbank.”
Oakdale jumped ahead with a two-run rally in the bottom of the first inning, but soon found their all-stars on their heels amidst powerful Riverbank base-knocks to deep outfield.
Isaac Pena crushed a long-bomb over the fence and watched Isaac Estrada and Michael Soriano follow suit with big base hits.
It was a team effort like no other.
Players made quality contact on pitches, glided across the base paths like gazelles, and took the field for some inspirational defense. With Oakdale pressuring the field with repeated belts into play, Riverbank showed a surprising combination of discipline and reaction-time to limit one of the top hitting programs in the area to only a handful of extra base hits.
“We practice aggressively,” Soriano said. “We smash the balls to the kids in practice, so they are used to the ball coming at a higher speed.
“When the ball comes to them in game, they are ready to make a play.”The same squad will stay together for one more tournament, a Ceres bracket that continues today, Wednesday July 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Acosta Fields. Since Riverbank is 3-0 in that tournament, a win today will guarantee Riverbank’s third straight trip to a tournament finale. The title game is slated for Friday at 7 p.m.