Eastlake Little League’s 12-under all-star team keeps winning and, in the process, has journeyed to where only two other teams from California District 42 have gone before: the West Region championship game.
Eastlake defeated Nevada state champion Mountain Ridge of Las Vegas, 12-0, on Friday afternoon to punch their ticket to Saturday’s regional championship game.
Eastlake (17-1) will play top-seeded Northern California (Belmont-Redwood Shores) in the final that will be broadcast live on ESPN, starting at 6 p.m.
The winner of Saturday’s West Region championship game advances to the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.
After dropping a hotly contested 3-2 final-round pool match-up to Belmont-Redwood Shores on Wednesday (thus giving the Nor Cal state champions the No. 1 seed in Friday’s semifinals), second-seeded Eastlake returned to familiar form in eliminating the third-seeded Las Vegans.
Friday’s elimination game was close through four innings, with Southern California state champion Eastlake holding a narrow 2-0 lead.
But the District 42 champions exploded for 10 runs in the final two frames to put the game out of reach.
It was an exciting moment for parents and friends who made the trip up to San Bernardino for the game.
Chants of “East-lake! East-lake!” could be heard emanating from the stands throughout Friday’s telecast on ESPN2.
Eastlake manager Rick Tibbett said he was not concerned about the score.
"We saw their pitcher — he wasn't throwing much off-speed stuff and we knew we could wait on his fastball," Tibbett said. "We started pecking away. We started getting timely hits."
Only three district teams have advanced to the West Region championship game. In 1982, South Bay Little League finished runner-up to Kirkland, Wash. In 2009, Park View won the region title and then went on its history-making run to win the LLWS championship.
Eastlake would like nothing better than to follow in Park View’s footsteps.
Eastlake had defeated Mountain Ridge, 15-0, in an earlier pool-play encounter. But the Nevadans, behind starting pitcher Jared Godman, appeared poised to make this contest a much closer affair, and possibly even leave some doubt as to the outcome of the game.
Mountain Ridge finished pool play with a 3-1 record; the Nevada team’s lone loss was to Eastlake.
California Section 7 champion Eastlake seized the momentum early on as Micah Pietila-Wiggs led off the game with a walk and came around on a double into the alley by Grant Holman. Starting pitcher Nick Mora subsequently reached base, and Holman scored on a sacrifice fly by Giancarlo Cortez.
Eastlake placed a runner in scoring position again in the third inning as Jake Espinoza singled up the middle and then stole second base. But a spectacular diving catch by Mountain Ridge’s centerfielder robbed Eastlake of another run.
Jesse Pierce drove a two-out single down the left field line in the bottom of the third inning and advanced to second base on a passed ball. But Mora ended the threat with his fourth strikeout of the game.
Godman pitched out of a jam in the top of the fourth inning to deny Eastlake once again.
But Mora retired the Nevadans 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the frame to help his team retain its tenuous lead.
Eastlake’s offense finally exploded in the top of the fifth inning with six runs as the Chula Vistans built a more comfortable 8-0 lead.
Jake Espinoza opened the inning with a single and advanced to third on a double by Holman. Mora was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Cortez was then hit by a pitch to bring in one run and, with the bases still loaded, Rennard Williams whacked the ball to the wall for a double to score two more runs.
Godman reached the mandatory 85-pitch count and had to leave the game at this point. Ricky Tibbett then came up to the plate and blasted a pitch from Godman's replacement over the fence for a three-run homer.
It was Tibbett's first round-tripper in post-season play, giving Eastlake 11 players who have hit at least one home run.
The SoCal champions tacked on four more runs in the top of the sixth inning as Espinoza singled, Holman reached based on an infield single (Kevin Bateman was inserted as a pinch runner for Holman) and Cortez slammed a three-run home run.
The homer was Cortez's second of the regional tournament, giving him 13 RBI in five tourney games.
Williams then went yard on a monstrous shot well onto the embankment beyond the left field fence. The elder Tibbett estimated the ball traveled at least 240 feet.
That left Mountain Ridge with just three outs. Mora entered the frame nursing a one-hitter and racked up his eighth strikeout before Pierce singled.
Pierce then advanced two bases on passed balls, placing a runner on third base with two outs.
But Mora ended the game by inducing a comebacker. It was his second shutout against the Nevada team in the tournament.
Eastlake pounded out nine hits in the game and committed just one error. Mountain Ridge was tagged with five errors and held to just two hits.
The Eastlake manager said Wednesday's loss helped motivate the team for Friday's semifinals.
"We went to work from losing that game, we showed that today," Tibbett said. "The kids are loose, we're ready for whoever we face. It's just great to get to the championship game. We're going to try our best."
Holman will get the start in Saturday's regional championship game. He's notched 19 strikeouts in the tournament so far.
Belmont-Redwood Shores eliminated Arizona champion Chandler National, 8-1, in Friday's other semifinal. Nicolas Lopez drove in three runs and struck out nine batters while on the hill. Luke Bugbee also collected three RBI to help fuel the Nor Cal champions' 10-hit attack.
The West regoinal champions' first game at the LLWC would be on Aug. 16 against the Great Lakes champion.