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Back to Williamsport: Eastlake Little League makes history, seeks own World Series title Phillip Brents | Mon, Aug 12 2013 05:37 PM

They won’t earn the moniker of the fabled Blue Bombers — that’s reserved for Park View’s history-making 2009 Little League World Series championship team — but the yellow-clad 2013 West Region championship team from Eastlake Little League will forever remain golden in the hearts of family, friends and admirers throughout the San Diego region.

For those haven’t heard yet, Eastlake Little League’s 12-under all-star team has qualified to compete in the Little League World Series that will take place Aug. 15-25 in South Williamsport, Pa.

Even for those who have followed the team from its first game back on June 29 — an 10-1 victory against Chula Vista National — they still must be pinching themselves that it’s actually real.

Yes, another team from Chula Vista has made the trek to Williamsport. It’s a statement both for Eastlake Little League and California District 42.

Eastlake follows the trail first blazed by Park View in 2009. The latest District 42 champions hope to write some history of their own.

For the moment, players, managers, coaches and league/district administrators are just soaking in the adventure of a lifetime.

Eastlake punched its ticket to the Little League World Series by winning the West Region championship title on Saturday. Eastlake’s players made a statement to other LLWS entrants with a 9-0 win over Northern California state champion Belmont-Redwood Shores.

Eastlake, which carries an overall 18-1 all-star tournament record, arrived in Pennsylvania on Sunday. It’s been hectic since then, according to Eastlake manager Rick Tibbett.

“We got on the plane and had a long flight to Newark and then had a three-hour bus ride to Williamsport,” Tibbett said. “We got our uniforms last night and have picture day coming up. We got a tour of the complex. We’ve already got one practice in. It’s been nice but it’s been raining off and on, and it’s been hot.”

The inclement weather hasn’t dampened the spirits of Eastlake’s sluggers.

The team is scheduled to participate in Wednesday’s Little League parade in Williamsport. About 200,000 people are expected to attend the event and cheer on the 16 teams from round the world that have qualified to compete in this year’s LLWS.

Tibbett said Eastlake will be paired with an international team on a flatbed truck to be formally presented to fans.

Echoes of Saturday’s western regional championship game victory must still be ringing in the ears of players and coaches alike.

“Our slogan has been ‘Find a Way,” Tibbett said. “That win was big. We shut them down. We had lost to them, 3-2, in pool play but we weren’t concerned because we knew what we had. We took care of business.”

Eastlake will renew its championship quest when it opens LLWS tournament play on Friday against Great Lakes regional champion Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores from Michigan. That first-round game is scheduled for a noon PDT start and will be telecast on ESPN.

Should Eastlake win that game, the California Section 7 champions would play either the Mid-Atlantic or Midwest regional champion in Sunday’s double-elimination winners bracket match-up. That game would be telecast at 2 p.m. PDT, also on ESPN.

Should Eastlake come up short in Friday’s opener, the Southern California state champions would play the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest loser in a consolation bracket game on Saturday. That game would be carried at 5 p.m. PDT on ESPN.

Tibbett said the game plan for his team is to “continue to do what we do best.”

“We’ve been practicing as close to our schedule as possible (West Coast time),” the Eastlake manager said. “We’re going to do our homework on the Great Lakes team.”

Tibbett said one of the highlights of the boys’ stay thus far in Pennsylvania was a trip to the LLWS complex and the Easton vendor tent.

“As they went into the tent, each one received a new 2014 batting helmet, bat, cleats and batting glove,” the Eastlaked manager said. “The tongue of the cleats had ‘Little League World Series’ printed on it. It was something only made available to the players here — special issue. It was like the kids were in a candy store.”

The Californians will have nearly six days to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings before they play their first game. Eastake’s players have been acting as ambassadors while adjusting to the new time zone.

“They’ve been meeting players from the other teams, including the international teams,” Tibbett said. “They met the players from the Tijuana team (the Mexico region champions). That was kind of cool.”

The Eastlake team’s journey to Williamsport has obviously created a media buzz throughout the San Diego region.

Team members were featured in a segment on Monday morning’s Jeff and Jer Showgram on radio station KyXy (FM 96.5)

“They did a blurb on each kid doing a shout-out to their families,” Eastlake Little League President Ray Diaz said.

Diaz called the West Region championship game victory “a crazy night.” Since then, he’s been working with the league’s fundraising committee to help secure funding to offset costs by players’ families who wish to follow the team in Williamsport.

Diaz and District 42 administrator Ernie Lucero are both planning to fly back to Williamsport to attend at least the team’s first game.

Diaz and Lucero, along with District 42 assistant director Sal Hernandez and treasurer Ron Skillman, attended Saturday’s west regional championship game in person in San Bernardino.

Diaz said he was on “pins and needles” the whole game.

“It was pretty unbelievable,” he said. “Everyone was ecstatic. I thought they might have more problems with the Northern California team. I asked Rick (Eastlake manager) after Wednesday’s loss if he had any idea of what they’d do to correct anything for the championship game and he said it came down to hitting their pitcher’s fastball.

“Our players broke their pitcher down and our bats were hot. What was particularly pleasing to see was how the bottom of our lineup produced. It’s a phenomenal team chemistry.”

Park View captured the 2009 LLWS championship title over Chinese Taipei in front of an international television audience and an estimated 20,000 spectators in Williamsport.

Diaz said the league’s main concern right now is helping to get as many of the players’ families who can travel back east to attend the games in Williamsport.

Diaz estimated each family’s cost to attend the LLWS at $4,500.

The league’s website currently sports a PayPal donation button; Diaz said the league’s fundraising committee is also seeking corporate donations to help offset families’ costs.

“Everything helps — it all counts,” Diaz said. 

Said Tibbett: “I’m hoping many families make it back.”

To make a donation to Eastlake Little League, visit the league’s website at http://www.eastlakelittleleague.vicid.net/.

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