Sierra Vista wins opener in American Legion World Series

SPOKANE, Wash. — Alex Estrella’s decisive hit had barely landed on the outfield grass before his father leaped atop the Sierra Vista dugout and announced to the world, “That’s my boy!”

Frankie Estrella had reason to be proud. His son’s two-run single to left field with two outs in the eighth inning lifted the Lions to a 6-5 comeback victory over Kernersville, N.C., on Friday in the first game of the American Legion World Series at Avista Stadium.

“Oh my goodness, this is great!” said a beaming Alex Estrella, referring to the World Series in general and the victory in particular. “This is what we live for as baseball players.

“I mean, the whole summer, we’ve been aiming to get here. The stadium — it’s a great atmosphere.”

Sierra Vista (47-15) advanced to play Moline, Ill. (42-7), a 15-7 winner over Branford, Conn., at 5 p.m. today. All games are streamed live at www.legion.org/baseball.

The Lions’ first lead was their only one. Kernersville (31-16) scored single runs off Estrella in the first four innings to take a 4-0 lead. Kernersville led 5-1 before winning pitcher Brooks Klein and Blair Goldsack combined on three innings of shutout relief after Estrella moved to right field.

Burly third baseman Connor Klein lifted the Lions to within 5-3 in the sixth when he launched a two-run homer 417 feet to right field.

“That was a game-changing moment,” Estrella said.

After Jake Hager’s RBI single in the seventh got Sierra Vista within 5-4, Estrella contributed his own game-changing moment in the eighth. Kernersville reliever Evan Orenstein had recorded two outs after Klein led off with a walk and Billy Santiwan singled, but Orenstein hit Goldsack with a pitch to load the bases before Estrella delivered.

Estrella, a gangly 16-year-old, came into the game with the lowest batting average (a lofty .375) on the hard-hitting Lions among Friday’s starters. Batting ninth, Estrella said he went up to the plate looking for a first-pitch fastball, and that’s what he got.

“I just said, ‘See it. If it’s in my zone, hit it,’ ” said Estrella, who went 3-for-4.

Connor Klein said he was surprised the Lions struggled early against Kernersville starter Nick Rhodes, whose pitches rarely hit 80 mph on the radar gun.

“We were a little anxious, I think,” Klein said. “We were trying to do a little too much, then we settled down later.”

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