The excitement has been building since Eastlake Little League’s 12-under all-star team first began practicing on June 15. Now just two victories separate the District 42 champions from a trip to Little League Baseball’s hallowed World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
“We know what our mission is,” Eastlake manager Rick Tibbett said with both satisfaction and resolve in reference to his team’s daunting 16-1 all-star tournament run thus far.
Eastlake qualified for Friday’s four-team West Region semifinals as the No. 2 seed after posting a 3-1 record in preliminary play earlier this week in San Bernardino.
Eastlake will take on third-seeded Mountain Ridge, the Nevada state champion, at 2 p.m. in a game telecast on ESPN2.
The winner advances to Saturday’s championship game against either top-seeded Belmont-Redwood Shores, the Northern California champion, or fourth-seeded Chandler National, the Arizona champion.
The winner of Saturday’s West Region championship game advances to the Little League World Series, which is set to begin on Thursday, Aug. 15.
Eastlake entered the West Region tournament as the reigning Division III Southern California champions after sweeping aside Sub-Division III North winner Sherman Oaks by scores of 5-3 and 6-0 in games played July 27-28 at Long Beach Little League.
The Section 7 champions kept their momentum going in winning their opening three games at the West Region tournament. Eastlake defeated Hawaii champion Central East Maui, 16-2, last Friday and topped Mountain Ridge, 15-0, on Sunday to assure itself a berth in Friday’s semifinals.
Eastlake improved to 3-0 in pool play after defeating Utah champion Dixie Little League, 11-3, on Tuesday.
Tibbett called the opening two wins the most important for his team in the six-team regional field. He specifically called the 16-2 win over Hawaii a “statement game.”
“We came out and established ourselves in winning our first two games,” the Eastlake manager said. “The outcome of the last two games didn’t matter as much. We just wanted to get into the seeded playoffs — one through four — and go from there.”
Eastlake rounded out preliminary-round play on Wednesday with a climactic encounter against Belmont-Redwood Shores, which also sported a 3-0 record following wins against Chandler National (11-0), Hawaii (3-0) and Utah (13-3).
Eastlake’s powerful bats were humbled somewhat in a 3-2 loss as the locals generated just four hits in the game and squandered an early 2-0 lead. Wednesday’s setback ended a 16-0 all-star tournament run by Tibbett’s squad.
Should both California teams advance to Saturday’s championship game, it would be an exciting rematch.
Tibbett called Wednesday’s game a “grudge match.”
“It always seems to become that because of the rivalry between the Northern California and Southern California state champions,” the Eastlake manager said. “They have a good team.”
The Nor Cal champions definitely came to play in Wednesday’s showcase match-up that attracted an estimated 8,000 fans to a mid-week game. Belmont-Redwood Shores had entered the game having allowed just three runs in its previous three pool games while scoring 27 runs.
Eastlake took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Giancarlo Cortez doubled in teammate Micah Pietila-Wiggs, who had reached base on a single.
Later in the opening inning, Nick Mora walked and eventually came home on a wild pitch.
Eastlake was denied a potential third run in the opening frame when Grant Holman was thrown out at the plate during a series of base-running gaffes.
The Nor Cal champions rallied with two runs in the third inning to tie the game on a sharply-hit ball just inside the right foul line by Nicholas Lopez and later pushed across a single run in the fourth inning on a pinch-hit double by Jake Stulbarg to go up by a run.
Belmont-Redwood Shores held Eastlake to just four hits in grabbing the win — a season-low output by the Chula Vista team.
“It was a game between two good teams,” Tibbett summed up about Wednesday’s nail-biting contest. “We only scored two runs, which was a low for us. Our pitching still held up.”
Wednesday’s game was critical in the sense that it only determined which team would receive the No. 1 seed for Friday’s semifinals.
Despite the setback to the Northern California state champions, Tibbett said he feels confident in his team’s chances to advance to the Little League World Series.
“After the loss, the kids came back to the dorm like nothing had happened and played games for a while before we all went out to Jack-in-the-Box for tacos,” the Eastlake manager said.
“Then Thursday morning, it was back to business as usual. They’re practicing hard. They’re rocking and rolling, getting ready for Friday’s game.”
Tibbett said Grant Holman and Nick Mora will start the team’s final two games on the mound, though the Eastlake manager didn’t say in which order.
“That hasn’t been determined yet,” Tibbett said.
Holman struck out seven batters in two innings of relief in Wednesday's game.
The Eastlake manager said the same game plan will be on order for Friday and Saturday’s playoff games.
“We’re just going to play like we have been — get hits, score runs and pitch well. “We just didn’t score enough runs on Wednesday. The kids are determined to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Tibbett said his team began to get an idea it might, in fact, be headed toward a special ending to the season after successfully marching through the array of sub-regional tournaments.
“When we went through the sub-division tournaments, there were some decent teams there — that helped us,” the Eastlake manager said. “The competition is still here but I think we faced stiffer competition in the Southern California tournaments.”
The District 42 champions have pounded the ball over the fence (39 home runs in their opening 13 pre-regional games), played small ball at times to produce runs and used overpowering pitching to deliver a message so far. They claimed their opening three victories at regionals by a margin of 42-5 on the scoreboard.
Up 6-0 in Tuesday’s game, Eastlake appeared to be in a jam in the bottom of the third inning when Utah loaded the bases with one out. Dixie scored one run but Giancarlo Cortez but denied the Utahans a big inning when he struck out the final two batters in the frame.
Eastlake bounced back to pick up two more runs in the top of the fourth inning on doubles by Jake Espinoza and Rennard Williams to build a commanding 8-1 lead.
Pietila-Wiggs, Holman and Cortez each had two hits in Tuesday’s victory while Cortez and Nick Mora each drove in a pair of runs.
Pietila-Wiggs, who scored his team’s opening run in the first inning on a wild pitch, tripled in the fifth inning while Charly Peterson smacked a solo home run in the second inning.
Playing on a large stage has not hampered the team thus far, according to Tibbett.
That was apparent in last Friday’s tournament opener, which must have seemed like a dream to players.
“The fans started filing into the stadium (for the opening ceremonies) and by the time the game started, it was packed,” Tibbett said. “There were about 8,000 fans.”
Tibbett said the large crowd did not intimidate his players.
“They responded well,” the Eastlake manager said. “They came out ready to play.”
That mind-set has continued throughout the tournament.
“They’re having fun — they’re not tight at all,” Tibbett said. “They’re still focused. They’re having a great time.
“It’s fun to sit back and watch them produce every game.”
The United States championship portion of the double-elimination World Series bracket features eight regional champions. The International champion will be drawn from a similar collection of eight teams.
The West champion opens bracket play against the Great Lakes champion on Aug. 16. The winner will play either the Mid-Atlantic champion or Midwest champion in the second round on Aug. 18.
The U.S. division championship game is scheduled Aug. 24, followed by the climactic World Series title game the next day pitting the U.S. and International division champions.
Bombs away! Eastlake sluggers pile up prodigious wins
The Little League West Region championship tournament started off with a blast — specifically, a three-run home run by Eastlake’s Giancarlo Cortez in the first inning — as Eastlake batters pummeled Hawaii champion Central East Maui pitching for 16 hits to grab a 16-2 win in last Friday’s pool-play opener.
Starting pitcher Grant Holman took care of the rest by hurling a no-hitter during his four-and-two-thirds innings of work on the mound. He struck out 12 batters, including nine consecutive at one point in the game, before he reached the mandatory 85-pitch count and had to leave the game.
Holman, who issued three walks, also starred at the plate with five hits, including a double that rolled to the wall, and drove in three runs.
Cortez led the Division III Southern California champions with five RBI while Micah Pietila-Wiggs contributed three hits and scored two runs and Jake Espinoza had two hits and two RBI. Eastlake batted around in the fourth inning and padded its lead with seven runs in the sixth inning.
In Sunday’s 15-0 win over Nevada, Nick Mora struck out six batters and allowed just two hits in four innings of work in Eastlake’s run-rule win. He also generated three hits at the plate and drove in five runs, including three on a first-inning home run.
Pietila-Wiggs blasted a three-run home run while Espinoza drove in two runs as Eastlake improved to 2-0 in pool play.
Eastlake racked up 13 hits and batted around in three of the four innings.
West Region schedule
Eastlake Little League games
Friday, Aug. 2
Southern California (Eastlake) 16, Hawaii (Central East Maui) 2
Highlights: Grant Holman powered Eastlake at the plate (five hits, three RBI) and on the mound (12 strikeouts, no hits in 4.2 innings before reaching the mandatory 85-count pitch limit). Giancarlo Cortez led the Division III Southern California champions with five RBI, including three on a first-inning home run, while Micah Pietila-Wiggs contributed three hits and scored two runs and Jake Espinoza collected a pair of hits and two RBI. Eastlake pummeled Hawaii pitching for 16 hits and batted around in the fourth inning and padded its lead with seven runs in the sixth inning. Holman, who issued three walks, struck out nine consecutive batters at one point in the game.
Sunday, Aug, 4
Southern California (Eastlake) 15, Nevada (Mountain Ridge/Las Vegas) 0
Highlights: Nick Mora struck out six batters and allowed just two hits in four innings of work in Eastlake's run-rule win. He also generated three hits at the plate and drove in five runs, including three on a first-inning home run. Micah Pietila-Wiggs blasted a three-run home run while Jake Espinoza drove in two runs as Eastlake improved to 2-0 in pool play. Eastlake racked up 13 hits and batted around in three of the four innings.
Tuesday, Aug. 6
Southern California (Eastlake) 11, Utah (Dixie/St. George) 3
Highlights: Eastlake moved out to an early 6-0 lead, then added two more runs in the top of the fourth inning on doubles by Jake Espinoza and Rennard Williams to build a commanding 8-1 lead. Micah Pietila-Wiggs, Grant Holman and Cortez each had two hits in Tuesday’s victory while Cortez and Nick Mora each drove in a pair of runs. Pietila-Wiggs, who scored his team’s opening run in the first inning on a wild pitch, tripled in the fifth inning while Charly Peterson smacked a solo home run in the second inning. Eastlake, which has outscored its opening three opponents 42-5, improved to 3-0 in pool play.
Wednesday, Aug. 7
Northern California (Belmont-Redwood Shores) 3, Southern California (Eastlake) 2
Highlights: Eastlake’s daunting 16-game winning streak came to an end in the final pool game of the West Region tournament. The game against the Northern California state champions determined which of the two teams would received the No. 1 seed and which would receive the No. 2 seed for Friday’s four-team semifinal playoffs. Eastlake squandered an early 2-0 lead in Wednesday’s pool finale pitting teams with 3-0 records. Giancarlo Cortez doubled in teammate Micah Pietila-Wiggs, who had reached base on a single. Later in the opening inning, Nick Mora walked and eventually came home on a wild pitch. The Nor Cal champions rallied with two runs in the third inning to tie the game on a sharply-hit ball just inside the right foul line by Nicholas Lopez and later pushed across a single run in the fourth inning on a pinch-hit double by Jake Stulbarg to go up by a run. Belmont-Redwood Shores held Eastlake to just four hits in grabbing the win. Eastlake was denied a potential third run in the first inning when Grant Holman was thrown out at the plate.
Friday, Aug. 9
(2) Southern California (Eastlake) 12, (3) Nevada (Mountain Ridge) 0
(1) Northern California (Belmont-Redwood Shores) vs. (4) Arizona (Chandler National), 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, Aug. 10
(2) Southern California (Eastlake) vs. Northern California-Arizona winner, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
(Top four teams advance to semifinals)
(1) Northern California (Belmont-Redwood Shores) 4-0
(2) Southern California (Eastlake) 3-1
(3) Nevada (Mountain Ridge) 3-1
(4) Arizona (Chandler National) 2-2
Hawaii (Central East Maui) 0-4
Utah (Dixie) 0-4
How can I watch?
All four of Eastlake's round-robin games at the Little League West Regional will be webcast on ESPN3, which is available to Cox High Speed Internet customers. Eastlake Tavern & Bowl will also host viewing parties for all of Eastlake's games, as long as the team remains in the tournament.
Eastlake Tavern & Bowl is located at 801Showroom Place. Call 565-2695 for information.