With the Academic Athletic Association playoffs slated for next week, the top five teams in the first division are jockeying for position.
On Monday, the Mission Bears — in second place behind Lowell — faced off with the Balboa Buccaneers, a team that, at 3-7 in league play, needed a win to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Bears, thanks to a two-run homer and strong pitching performance by Azaan Lewis, were able to hold off the Buccaneers, 5-3, meaning that Mission’s Wednesday and Thursday games against Lowell could decide the No. 1 seed. Before Wednesday’s 3:30 p.m. tilt at Benedetti Diamond on the USF campus, though, Mission was in for a fight.
The Bears got to Balboa early, with a Lewis single, a CJ Pino hit by pitch, a double steal and a two-out single up the middle by Asantay Wilson in the first inning giving Mission an early 2-0 led.
In the second, again with two outs, Mission’s Mika Mateo singled, and Lewis followed with a monster shot into the left-center field gap for a two-run home run, giving the Bears a 4-0 margin.
Balboa answered right back in the bottom of the frame. Kevin Mueller led off with a double followed by a single from center fielder George Escobedo. After Lewis fanned right fielder Yasin Shaikh and second basemanJeffrey Adler looking, first basemen Trevor Britton laced an opposite field single down the right field line, scoring two. Pitcher Sean Mueller helped his own cause with a double to left, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
In the fourth inning, Mission finally chased Mueller, who left the bases loaded with one out and leadoff man Lewis coming up with one out.
Lewis popped up for an infield fly out, but several Bears runners inexplicably tried to advance, causing confusion and ultimately ending in a double play, getting the Buccaneers out of a jam.
After Lewish exited following five strong innings, Lewis was relieved by twin brother Akheem in the bottom of the sixth. After singles by Mueller, Anthony Southavilay and a hit by pitch on Bing-Capirao, Balboa had the bases loaded with no outs.
Benjamin Norori sent a line drive to Azaan Lewis, who backdoored Norori at first. Mission thought it had escaped on the 4-3 double play, but the umpire called catcher interference, reloading the bases. With the count at 2-2, Escobido lined what look like sure double to clear the bases, but shortstop CJ Pino used every inch of his 5-foot-9 frame to make a leaping grab and end the threat.
In the bottom of seventh, Balboa came roaring back. After an error and walk, Mission coach Chris Ayag replaced Ahkeem Lewis with hard-throwing Asantay Wilson. After a sacrifice bunt advanced both runners, Wilson induced a ground out to short. With the tying run on second, Wilson battled leadoff hitter Southavilay with fast ball after fastball. Southavilay fouled off seven pitches and got the count to full. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Wilson was able to get a game ending pop up to first.
The win for Mission (11-11, 9-3 in AAA) sets up a battle for first place with Lowell (17-5, 11-1) this Wednesday 3:30 p.m at Benedetti Diamond. Both teams play again on Thursday at Graham Field at GGP Big Rec. Mission needs to win both games in order to gain the tie breaker with Lowell.