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Just call 'em California Kings: Merced Volunteers win 2nd straight state title thanks to another pitching gem

YOUNTVILLE -- If this trend continues, Rollo Adams is going to have to buy a bigger trophy case.

The Merced Volunteers coach watched happily Tuesday as his team won a second straight American Legion state championship.

The Vols defeated Covina Charter Cove 6-3 to make it three titles in four years.

Is Adams ready to call it a Merced dynasty?

"It's not a dynasty," he said. "But it does feel good. I'm very proud of this group. They showed a lot of heart and character."

The Volunteers just had too many arms.

Playing a fourth game in four days, Covina's list of available pitchers was growing short.

Meanwhile, Adams had two possible Division-I college pitchers to choose from -- Justin Koehler and Dylan Floro.

Adams actually had Koehler and Floro pitch quarters Monday night to decide Tuesday's starters. The Vols had two cracks at beating Covina, but somebody had to pitch the first one.

The two right-handers tossed quarters toward a wall with the player tossing the quarter closest to the wall winning.

Koehler won the best-of-seven contest on the final toss.

"It's a coach's dream," Adams said. "Three of the four starters in my rotation are Division-I guys and Nick Bernardi is not too bad himself.

"I've been fortunate to have a run of catchers, a run of shortstops and now a run of pitchers."

Like Brett Mooneyham on Saturday and Bernardi on Sunday, Koehler was dominant.

After giving up two unearned runs in the first inning, Koehler -- who didn't surrender a hit until the fifth inning -- cruised through the Covina lineup.

The Cal State Fullerton-bound hurler struck out seven and gave up just three hits in six innings.

"We came out kind of flat because it was an early-morning game," Koehler said. "The second time through our lineup, we started getting rowdy and making some noise. That gave me more confidence knowing my team was behind me."

The offense broke through against Covina starter Tyler Garkow in the top of the fourth inning. A two-run single by Marco Ledesma and a run-scoring single by Joe Medeiros highlighted the rally.

"My hits hadn't been dropping in," Ledesma said. "I was just trying to put the ball in play and see what happens. That one happened to drop in."

With the Vols ahead 6-3, Floro came on to pitch the final three innings to pick up the save.

The Merced pitching staff combined to strike out 35 hitters in 27 innings during the tournament.

"I had to hit against these guys in the (Central California Conference)," said Volunteers outfielder Daniel Benson, who went 3 for 4 against Covina. "I'm pretty happy to be facing other competition now."

The Volunteers (24-13) will play in the Northwest Regional in Bozeman, Mont., next week as they try to earn a berth in the World Series.

That event is scheduled for Shelby, North Carolina -- Aug. 21-26.

After the game, Floro broke the news to his teammates that he's decided to stay with the team and pass on his invitation to play in the Area Code games this week in Long Beach.

Floro's decision elicited a huge ovation from his teammates.

"He told us he was staying and that's huge," Adams said. "That allows me to tinker with the rotation once I get a scouting report on who we're playing."

Merced finished one win shy of reaching the regional championship game last year.

"One pitch sent us home last year in the regional," Koehler said. "It's left a bad taste in our mouths. We still feel like we have some unfinished business to take care of this year."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at

American Legion State Tournament

Championship Game


At Yountville

VOLUNTEERS 000 410 100 -- 6 13 3

COVINA 200 010 000 -- 3 5 2

Justin Koehler, Dylan Floro (7) and Joe Medeiros; Tyler Garkow, Ryan Snow (7) and Jake Bailey. WP -- Koehler. LP -- Garkow. SV -- Floro.

VOLUNTEERS -- Marco Ledesma 2-5 (2 RBI), Brett Mooneyham 2-3 (2 Runs), Brock Pisacco 3-4 (RBI), Daniel Benson 3-4, J.C. Barcelo 1-3 (RBI).

COVINA -- J.C. Torres 1-2 (RBI).

Records: Volunteers 24-13, Covina 27-2.