They were a year older and the venue wasn’t on the other side of the country, but former Sweetwater Valley Little Leaguers Jake Baptista, Nate Nankil and Ariel Armas can finally call themselves World Series champions.
The trio helped guide the fortunes of Sweetwater Valley’s entry in last year’s Little League World Series. The Sweetwater Sluggers placed third in the United States division following an extra-inning loss to Texas in the challenger bracket final.
Sweetwater Valley lost to Texas twice in the tournament: they beat every other Little League team in the United States they faced in 2015.
The talented trio lost only one game in their magic carpet ride this summer as members of the Emerald Diamond all-star team. Emerald defeated Panama, 12-0, in Monday’s championship game at the Pony-13 International World Series in Whittier.
Baptista said this year’s Pony-13 World Series championship helped exorcised some ghosts that there still haunting the trio from last year’s third-place finish at the Little League World Series.
“It was kind of a redeemer,” explained Baptista, now an eighth grader. “We lost to Texas (in the game to get to the U.S. division LLWS championship game). It gave me a chance to win a World Series with Nate and Ari. That was the most exciting thing for me.”
Armas, who is the nephew of California District 42 Little League administrator Ernie Lucero, called winning the Pony-13 World Series championship a “good experience.”
“Last year, we were dreaming of winning a Little League World Series championship,” Armas explained. “We came close and it’s cool to win a world championship this year. It was cool to have two teammates with me (from last year’s Sweetwater Valley team). Winning this with them was great.
“It was fun. In baseball, there are so many opportunities to improve. You can’t always win every game; some games you lose. But you always have chances to do better.
“Last year we were third in the Little League World Series; this year we were first – that’s what’s exciting for me.”
“It felt unbelievable — just winning the whole thing feels great,” explained Nankil, who recently came off a stint with the 14U United States National Development Team in Cary, N.C.
The three former Sweetwater Valley standouts definitely had an impact on this year’s Emerald Pony-13 World Series championship team.
“Nate helped us with his speed in the outfield and his clutch-hitting,” Baptista explained. “Ari is one of the best catchers I’ve played with. I just focused on playing good defense in center field or first base, wherever I was, and tried to follow that up with good hitting in clutch situations, like hitting behind runners.”
It added up to a memorable summer.
“It’s fun to make friendships that last a lifetime,” Armas said. “It’s cool to see yourself and your friends developing their baseball skills every day while you’re growing up. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to experience this together. We are a family.”
The three former Little League World Series standouts excelled in new horizons while playing Pony baseball. The Pony-13 level was a step up with base paths separated by 80 feet rather than 60 feet (as in Little League) and outfield fences pushed back significantly.
“The pitching was good but the hitting was more challenging in Pony than in Little League,” Baptista explained. “Last year, we were playing on fields where the fences were 225 to 280 feet from home plate; this year the fences were 360 to 380 feet away.”
“I liked the bigger fields because it prepared you for high school,” added Nankil, a freshman at Bonita Vista High School. “Hitting was our most dominant tool.”
Despite playing in two youth baseball World Series events, Baptista lists his most exciting experience as winning the Little League Baseball West Region tournament last year to get to the Little League World Series. “But winning the Pony-13 World Series is right up there,” he said. “It’s the kind of memory you’ll never forget.”
“It was an exciting journey,” Armas said.
The El Cajon-based team accumulated four championship banners and a 15-1 record. The one loss was to rival Emerald Crimson in the region tournament back on July 10.
Eight teams comprised the field in this year’s Pony-13 World Series tournament: Minatitlan/Veracruz (Mexico Zone winner), Hagerstown, Md. (East Zone winner), Grand Ledge, Mich. (North Zone winner), Emerald/El Cajon (West Zone winner), Manila/Philippines (Asia-Pacific Zone winner), Panama (Caribbean Zone winner), Brownsville, Tex. (South Zone winner) and host Whittier.
Emerald cut a wide swath through the tournament, defeating, in order, Grand Ledge (17-1), Hagerstown (9-7), Minatitlan (16-0) and Panama (12-0).
Emerald outscored its four opponents 54-8 at this year’s World Series tournament. The El Cajon team ended postseason all-star play with a nine-game winning streak.
Emerald defeated Alea (Hawaii) twice, as well as California rivals Campbell and Covina once each, at the preceding West Zone tournament July 21-24 in Whittier after going 3-1 at the Southwest Region championship tournament July 6-10 in Lakeside.
Emerald defeated Covina, 2-0, to win the West Zone tournament title and Emerald Crimson, 10-3, to win the region tournament.
Emerald kicked off all-star tournament play by defeating Chula Vista South Navy, 6-4, to win the San Diego Section tournament June 18-26 at Chula Vista South Pony.
It all came together on Monday.
Nankil, playing in right field, went two-for-four with three RBI and one run scored while Armas, the team’s catcher, went two-for-two with one RBI and two runs scored. Baptista, playing center field and the team’s cleanup hitter, went one-for-three with one run scored.
Emerald scored twice in the top of the second inning, tacked on one run in the third inning, added three more runs in the fourth inning and scored the run-rule victory by scoring six more runs in the fifth inning.
Emerald scored 12 runs on 12 hits while Panama was held hitless in the contest with six errors.
Besides the three former Sweetwater Valley LLWS standouts, this year’s monstrous Emerald team also included Alonzo Richardson, Aaron Pulido, Trent Nielsen, Marcelo Mayer, Ayden Estrada, Andrew Young, Victor Arreola, Ernie Arambula, Josh Shimko, Jace Buxbaum, Tyler Peters and Drew Stinnett.
The team’s coaching staff included manager Ed Young, coach Eddie Young and business manager Mike Wilson.
Richardson went two-for-five at the plate with two runs scored and one RBI while pitching hitless ball. Pulido and Nielsen each drove in two runs and scored twice while Mayer scored twice and drove in one run. Arreola collected one RBI.
Emerald defeated Minatitlan, 16-0, in the semifinals. Emerald pounded out 16 hits in the contest while limiting the Mexico Zone representative to just five hits.
Baptista swung the big stick with three hits, three RBI and two runs scored while Nankil drove in two runs on two hits and scored three runs. Armas had one hit and scored one run.
Nielsen drove in two runs and scored four runs while also pitching five innings with two walks and two strikeouts. Mayer collected three RBi and scored once while Young drove in three runs and Arreola collected two RBI. Richardson and Pulido each scored two runs while Arambula scored one run.
Nankil went two-for-four in the two runs scored and two RBI in the 9-7 win over Hagerstown in a second-round winners bracket game.
As a point of reference, the Emerald Crimson team (which advanced as far as the West Zone tournament) had two other 2015 Sweetwater Valley Little League players on its roster: Levi Mendez and Isaac Artalejo.
Nine is fine
Emerald Pony is basking in not one but two World Series championships after the league captured the Mustang-9 World Series championship Saturday in Walnut. Emerald finished the season with an undefeated 21-0 record after capping the season with a 12-0 win over Guasave, Mexico.
Emerald Pony League coordinator Mingo Villa said the league’s two World Series championships on the same weekend may be unprecedented in Pony Baseball, according to information he has received.
“All the Pony League directors I’ve talked with have been impressed by how Emerald has turned its program around and they’re looking forward for more good things to come,” Villa explained. “The league is overwhelmed with joy — the players, the parents and the city of El Cajon.”
Villa said plans are in the works for a public event showcasing the two World Series championship teams. An announcement will be made when plans are finalized, Villa noted.
Villa lauded the team’s coaching staffs for a job well done: manager Dale Entrekin, coach Thomas Molina and business manager David Entrekin.
Players on the Mustang-9 World Series championship Emerald team included Lucas Aragon, Zephnia Carter Jr., Tommy Entrekin, Noah Entrekin, Noah Figuered, Dimetric Green, Phillip Jones II, David McComb, Benjamin Molina, Trevor Smith, Xzavier Stojek and Sergio Velazco.
Carter tossed a one-hitter in Saturday’s championship game. The Emerald team scored nine runs in the first inning, forcing Mexico to go through three pitchers before putting out the fire.
Twenty of the team’s 21 wins ended in 10-run mercy-rule decisions this summer.
“The boys just kept hitting and hitting,” Villa noted in regard to the team’s unrelenting attack.
Carter’s jersey will be showcased in the Pony Hall of Fame to commemorate the team’s accomplishment, Villa said.
Velazco led the team with seven RBI and a .700 hitting average at the Mustang-9 World Series while Carter had six RBI to go with a .667 hitting average. Other top hitters in the championship tournament included Tommy Entrekin (.688), Jones (.556), Smith (.462) and Green (.455).
However, all agreed it took a total team effort.
Road to the World Series
Emerald’s Mustang-9 team participated in five tournaments en route to winning this year’s World Series championship – the first for the league at that age level.
The El Cajon team started its monstrous world championship odyssey by first winning the San Diego East/South Section tournament held June 18-26 in Ramona. Emerald went through the nine-team field undefeated in five games. Emerald opened the tournament by defeating La Jolla Blue by a score of 19-0, then defeated Ramona by a score of 19-8 in its next game to continue to advance in the winners bracket.
Emerald defeated North City, 13-2, to meet La Jolla Red in the winners bracket final. Emerald won 16-1 to earn a berth in the tournament championship game. La Jolla Red defeated Ramona, 9-6, in the challenger bracket final to earn a rematch with Emerald in the finals.
But the outcome ended with a 12-0 victory in favor of Emerald to claim the section championship and the first of its five post-season banners.
The top four teams from the San Diego East/South Section tournament advanced to the region tournament June 30 to July 5 in Carlsbad. Mira Mesa Blue, Emerald, La Jolla Red and Ramona joined four qualifying teams from the San Diego North Section tournament — San Marcos Strong, Carlsbad, Escondido and the San Marcos Grizzlies — as the eight teams competing at the region tournament.
Emerald upped its record to 9-0 after winning all four of its games at the region tournament. The El Cajon team made a statement in its first game after defeating the San Marcos Grizzlies, the third-place team from the San Diego North Section, by a score of 24-2. Emerald then defeated Escondido, the San Diego North Section runner-up, by a score of 11-7 to advance to the winners bracket final.
Emerald defeated region tournament host Carlsbad, 10-3, to advance to the championship game. Carlsbad then defeated San Marcos Strong, the San Diego North Section champion, by a score of 13-1 in the challenger bracket final to earn a championship rematch against Emerald.
Emerald won its second championship banner by defeating Carlsbad by a score of 17-8.
The top three teams advanced to the Southern California Super Region tournament July 14-19 in Walnut.
Emerald successfully navigated the 16-team field (two eight-team brackets) with a 4-0 record to win its third championship banner.
Emerald defeated Charter Oak, 9-0, in its first game and then defeated Olive, 9-1, in its second game. Emerald then defeated Whittier Select, 12-3, in its final bracket game to meet Irvine, the winner of the other bracket, in the championship game.
Emerald shut out Irvine, 4-0, to win the tournament championship.
Two teams advanced from the Southern California Super Region to compete in the West Zone tournament. Emerald receive the No. 1 berth and Simi Valley received the No. 2 berth after defeating Irving, 10-9, in eight innings in a playoff game for second place.
Eight teams competed in the West Zone tournament, which also took place at Creekside Park in Walnut. Participating teams included Emerald, Rocklin, Scottsdale (Ariz.) , Seattle (Wash.), Ceres, Hart, Hilo (Hawaii) and Simi Valley.
Despite the move up a notch in competition level, Emerald continued its winning streak by defeated Seattle by a score of 20-2 in its first game at the zone finals. The El Cajon team then turned back a challenge from Scottsdale in its second game to win 15-9.
Emerald drew a rematch against Scottsdale in the semifinals and defeated the Arizona team by a score of 15-4 to advance to the zone championship game against Hilo. Emerald defeated the Hawaii team, 13-7, to earn a berth in the Mustang-9 World Series.
Emerald’s scores at the World Series were decidedly lopsided: Emerald 12, Bronx (N.Y.) 0; Emerald 12, Laredo (Texas) 3; Emerald 19, Bronx (N.Y.) 1; and Emerald 12, Guasave (Mexico) 0.
Emerald scored 55 runs and allowed just four in a gathering of the world’s elite teams.
The spotlight was clearly on El Cajon.