Ramona High School’s baseball team won the first Lions Invitational Baseball Tournament in the school’s history.
Ramona won the consolation bracket in 1978. One person on the Bulldog bench had played in a championship game in the Lions tourney. Coach Bob Snelling’s 1953 Point Loma team finished second.
Three Ramona sophomores had big days on championship Thursday. Beau Sulser and Curtis Sullivan picked up their first varsity wins and Jackson Willeford hit his first varsity home run, the winning run in the championship game.
Jackson Willeford was named the game’s Most Valuable Player by the San Diego Lions Club.
“Willingham and Sullivan both could have been named the player of the game, too,” said Ramona coach Dean Welch. “It was a close call. Jackson deserved the honor, too. He played stellar in the field and got the knock that won the game. We are not about individual awards, but it is nice when a player gets recognized in one of the biggest tournaments in the country.”
The Lions tournament was the second prestigious championship that a Welch-coached team has won. The Dawgs won the North County Tournament in 2008.
Ramona opened play in the 60th annual Lions tournament with a 5-3 win over Fallbrook High School at Mission Bay High School. Ramona competed in the 6A Division. A total of 112 teams participated in eight divisions.
Ramona had to come from behind in a pitching duel to beat the Warriors. Fallbrook scored three runs in the top of the third inning off Bulldog ace Cody Willingham. The Dawgs got one run back in the bottom of the frame when Blake Drake singled and was driven in on a Kyle Gray RBI single.
The Dawgs made it a one-run game in the fourth when Jackson Willeford singled and Smiley Willeford hit a clutch two out double to score his younger brother.
The Dawgs scored three runs to earn the victory in the bottom of the sixth inning. Zach Adamos singled. With one out, Drake delivered an RBI double.
Smiley Willeford then drove in Drake with a single. Beau Sulser finished the rally when he drove in Smiley with an RBI single.
Drake had three hits in four trips. Smiley Willeford went 3-for-3 and drove in three runs. Adamos had two hits in three appearances. Jackson Willeford, James Nicholson, Sulser, Gray and Shea Bailey all collected one hit apiece.
Willingham went the distance and picked up his fourth win of the season. He gave up two earned runs on six hits and struck out nine Warriors.
The Ramona Bulldogs unleashed 17 hits on the Taft Toreadors of Woodland Hills in a game shortened by the mercy rule. Ramona parlayed its 17 hits into a 14-4 victory.
Erik Ernst went the distance and picked up the win. Het limited the Toreadors to two earned runs on five hits and struck out five Toreadors.
Every Bulldog in the batting order had at least one hit, and eight Dawgs drove in runs.
Sulser had a big day at the plate. The sophomore ripped a single, a double and a two-run home run as he drove in five runs.
Smiley Willeford and Gray each had three-hit outings. Smiley ripped two doubles and a single, scored three runs and drove in one run. Gray had three singles, scored three runs and also drove in a run. Brady Wilson had a double, a single and an RI in three appearances.
In addition, Jackson Willeford, Drake, Nicholson, Bailey and Adamos contributed hits to the attack. Jackson Willeford drove in three runs and Adamos drove in two runs.
Going into the final game of pool play against Mission Bay, Ramona had clinched a berth in the semi-finals. The first tie-breaker is head-to-head competition and Mission Bay was 0-2 in pool play. Taft and Fallbrook both lost to Ramona, so the Dawgs were a lock to advance.
Both teams scored four runs in the first inning. Ramona opened the frame. Wilson led off with a hit. Jackson Willeford reached base. Smiley Willeford drove in Wilson with a single. Drake reached base. Gray drove in Jackson with a single. Sulser’s bat continued to sizzle as he drove in Drake and Gray.
Jason Snodgrass got the start and took the loss. He gave up seven runs on 10 hits and struck out two. Casmir Mason finished on the mound and gave up one run on one hit.
Ramona’s pitchers liked the mound at Southwestern College. The Bulldog staff gave up three runs on the Jaguar’s diamond and won two games on championship Thursday.
Ramona squared off against Eastlake High School of Chula Vista in the semi-final game of the tourney, and Beau Sulser got his first varsity win over the Titans. The sophomore righthander went the distance and gave up two runs as he scattered five hits and struck out seven.
Sulser also used his bat in the win as he went 1-for-3, scored one run and had the Bulldog’s only RBI.
Ramona scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie. Jackson Willeford led off the inning with a double. Drake sacrificed him to third base. Jackson Willeford scored on an error. Smiley Willeford walked. Gray singled. Sulser drove in Smiley with a double. With two out, Gray and Sulser scored when Nicholson reached on an error.
Ramona scored two insurance runs in the sixth inning after Eastlake scored two runs in the top of the frame. Smiley Willeford led on the frame with a single. Gray sacrificed him to second.
With two down, Adamos walked and Nicholson was hit by a pitch. Michael Scodellaro hit a ground ball that resulted in a two-run error scoring Smiley and Adamos.
The championship game got a late start but only lasted an hour and a half. The tournament and CIF rules that limit each pitcher to 10 innings and five games in four days put a strain on pitching staffs. Steele Canyon and Ramona pitching staffs were up to the challenge.
Cody Willingham got the start and pitched three shutout innings as he struck out four and did not give up a hit. Sophomore Curtis Sullivan, up from the junior varsity for the tourney, then came in and threw four shutout innings to earn the win over Steele Canyon. Sullivan gave up two hits and struck out two.
“I was nervous when I first went in, but then I settled down and just tried to throw strikes,” stated Sullivan.
Ramona’s defense played stellar ball as the Bulldogs turned two inning ending double plays.
Ramona got the only run it needed in the top of the first inning. Jackson Willeford hit a solo home run over the right field fence on the fourth pitch of the game and Willingham and Sullivan made the run stand up.
Wilson, Sulser and Adamos also hit safely in the championship game.