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Little League All-Stars power back with big rallies
MOUNT VERNON — What a recovery.
The South Whidbey Little League 11- and 12-year-old All-Stars beat Anacortes 20-3, after losing the opening game 4-3 to Sedro-Woolley. The All-Stars then won two more 10-run victories to play in the championship series against South Skagit.
“Oh, man, we finally got it going,” said head coach Eddie Sergeant. “Saturday the kids had just, I don’t know, first-game jitters.”
The jitters were long gone, almost as long gone as Will Simms and Max Divina’s home runs at Bakerview Park Monday.
“It was the sweet spot and it just felt really good,” Divina said of his homer over left field.
Simms hit a two-run blast in the second inning and Divina hit a solo shot in the fourth.
South Whidbey controlled the game early with a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Catcher Josiah Sergeant hit a lofty pop fly to right field that Anacortes right fielder Eli Zachary misjudged and dropped, scoring Connor Antich and Charlie Patterson. South Whidbey left the bases loaded after that.
“We just kept hitting and we had a better game than we did last time,” said Simms, South Whidbey’s center fielder.
Trent Piehler struck out the first two Anacortes batters before walking Anacortes pitcher Lincoln Gilden. To preserve South Whidbey’s pitchers, coach Eddie Sergeant pulled Piehler and put in Simms.
Simms plunked Griffen Overa before striking out first baseman Josh Kozsey.
“One thing about this team is we have really deep pitching,” Sergeant said. “Losing that first game, now we have to play back-to-back, and we keep the kids fresh and available by keeping them under 20 pitches.”
With Antich on first base with his second walk, Simms hit a 3-2 pitch count home run over the center field fence, and South Whidbey crushed and cruised to victory. The center field fence distance was not listed, but right field was listed at 206 feet.
“It felt good, and it was probably the best hit I ever had because I hit it square on,” Simms said.
Sergeant credited the bottom of the batting order for sparking South Whidbey’s offense. In the third inning, the batting began and ended with the second half of the lineup.
South Whidbey added five runs and batted through the lineup. Austin Sterba hit a two-RBI single past a drawn-in infield that was playing to stop a run at home plate. His hit scored Parker Buchanan and Sergeant, who both reached base on walks.
Lewis Pope hit a line drive single to right field that moved Sterba to third base. Antich walked to load the bases, then Simms walked to score Sterba.
Anacortes pulled Gilden after less than three innings (with 82 pitches, nine walks, seven runs) and put in center fielder Griffen Olvera. That didn’t stop South Whidbey from scoring.
Parker Buchanan hit a pop fly to Anacortes second baseman Cody Glover, which was dropped but Buchanan was ruled out by the infield fly rule. Still, that scored an unearned run. Sergeant reached first on an error by Glover and another unearned run scored.
Ahead by eight runs in the top of the fifth inning, South Whidbey piled on nine more runs and again hit through the lineup. The nine-run rally was highlighted by Pope’s three-RBI single to right field.
Antich relieved Divina on the mound and closed the game. He got two infield grounders before striking out the final batter.
South Whidbey tallied 12 walks and 14 hits against five strikeouts. Four South Whidbey pitchers (Piehler, Simms, Divina and Antich) combined for eight strikeouts. After Monday’s game, South Whidbey’s coaches were confident their players would continue winning.
“We’re on a roll now,” Sergeant said. “These kids are confident, they have each other’s back and they’re a good group of kids to coach.”
Two 10-run mercy rule victories later, and South Whidbey played for the championship against
South Skagit July 14.
Simms repeated his long ball hitting with a three-run homer against Burlington-Edison in the third game. Piehler, Pope and Sergeant each hit two-RBI singles. Again, Piehler, Simms and Divina pitched and kept their opponents under three runs.
In the fourth game, South Whidbey avenged its opening round loss against Sedro-Woolley and scored 12 runs in the first inning. Antich, Simms and Patterson led with two hits each. Josiah Sergeant led the team with two hits and four RBIs. Divina and Simms combined to pitch a shutout.
Five games in six days was a lot of work, and that’s why South Whidbey’s coaches used a nine-player rotation to keep most of their pitchers’ rested. South Whidbey lost to Sedro-Woolley July 9, had Sunday off and played Monday through Thursday, July 11-14.
“It was nice having a day off to just get fresh,” Sergeant said. “But this is a talented group of kids that have been together for four years. They just kind of started hitting the ball and we knew as soon as that started happening, we’d be fine.”
To win the District 11 title and advance to the state tournament, South Whidbey had to beat South Skagit twice. South Skagit was the sole undefeated team in the District 11 tournament.
The All-Stars were one win away from going to the state tournament. South Whidbey beat South Skagit 4-2 July 14. Simms pitched a complete game and struck out 11 batters. Patterson Josiah Sergeant had two RBIs each to lead South Whidbey to victory.
South Whidbey played South Skagit in a winner-to-state championship game Friday, July 15.