There were plenty of early fireworks on display at Redwood Fields in Cutten, as the District 26 Little League All-Stars Tournament for 11-year-olds played out last week to a glorious ending. For the Eel River All Stars, that ending was a glorious one, as they held off the host team Redwood Empire and won the district title to move on to the Little League Section Tournament to commence July 13 in Marysville. Playing five games over the course of one week, it all came down to pitching as Eel River proved to have the deepest staff. That and an offense that was not to be denied.
Eel River beat Redwood Empire in the semifinal bracket of the tournament over a week ago, thus sending the host team to the losers bracket to prove themselves worthy of the championship game. In the double elimination tournament, Redwood Empire bounced back with a victory over the Arcata team and the title game participants were set. Eel River worked their way through the tournament bracket unscathed, so Redwood Empire would have to beat Eel River twice in the championship series to claim the title. That detail set up a pair of thrilling games to decide the crown.
In game one on June 27, Redwood Empire started their ace Ben Allen against hard throwing Eel River starter, Landon Gomes. Eel River got off to a rough start as Redwood Empire put runners aboard and Brady Munson smashed a grand slam in the first inning. Eel River trailed early but Gomes overcame the rough start to go on and pitch four solid innings and the offense came to life as well. Eel River tied the game at five runs apiece after their at bat in the third frame. The game went back and forth from their as Redwood Empire regained the lead in the fourth inning only to see Eel River tie it once again in the bottom of the fifth.
In the sixth and final inning, Redwood Empire scored the go-ahead run on Jayden Thayor's bad hop single past first base with runners aboard and Allen scored on a throwing error. Eel River failed to score in the bottom of the inning and Redwood Empire won it, 10-9; pitcher Lane Thrap got the win in relief. Eel River's Dylan McNeill hit 2/2 with two walks, a triple and 2 RBIs, Morgan Melendy went 3/4 with two doubles and an RBI, Daeden Taylor hit 1/4 with 2 runs batted in. The two teams would meet once more the following evening to decide the title.
Redwood Empire had used up two of their best pitchers the night before and due to Little League pitch count rules, both teams were down to the end. However, Eel River had one more ace up their sleeve in starting pitcher, lefty Merek Sears. Sears held the Redwood Empire offense at bay, giving up just one run through two innings then Redwood added two more in the third frame. Sears answered by striking out the side in the fourth inning but was at 62 pitches and counting. Meanwhile, the Eel River offense was making plenty of noise as Landon Gomes hit a 3-run homer and after four innings his team held a 12-4 lead.
Redwood Empire batters came through for 4 more runs but the Eel River offense exploded and put the game away in the final innings to win 19-8. Daeden Taylor finished 3/5 with two doubles and 3 RBIs, Dylan McNeill hit 4/4 with a walk and RBI. Landon Gomes finished 4/5 with 4 RBIs and the home run, Morgan Melendy hit 3/4 with a walk and 2 RBIs, JoJo McGinnis also added an RBI in going 2/3 at the plate. Eel River pitcher Merek Sears finished five strong innings for the win and Daeden Taylor came in and got the final three outs.
"They are a tough team and hit the ball hard," said Eel River head coach Jesse Franks of the opponents, "but we had a lot of pitching and our bats came alive in the end."
The District 26 All Star Tournament for 12-year-olds is well underway at Jacob Haney Field in Eureka. The Eel River team is hoping to duplicate the feat of the 11-year-old team. In the opening round last Saturday, Eel River got off to a good start in winning 9-4 over the McKinleyville team. Jorge Johnson and Hunter Turner each had home runs in the victory. Sunday however saw a setback as Eel River fell to Southern Humboldt by a final of 5-3. In the double elimination tournament bracket, Eel River will have to keep winning this week to stave off elimination.
An update to the Southern Humboldt 76ers fast start to their American Legion season: The team traveled to Chico to take on the Red Suns in the 17-and-under division. Saturday the Sixers swept a double header against the Suns behind strong pitching. Myles Borgelin started and was a complete game winner in game one, final score 9-3. Borgelin also excelled at the plate, smashing a triple and two doubles and Cole Moody stroked a bases loaded double. Game two saw Logan Thrap throw a complete game for the win. Thrap also had two hits and Southern Humboldt ran off to a 14-2 victory. After playing in 100 plus temperatures on Saturday, the Sixers had little in the tank and lost to the Suns 12-2.
"We were fortunate to have won two of three with the heat," said Sixers head coach Kellen Maynard.
Photos by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon
1. The Eel River 11-year-old All-Stars won the District 26 Championship in dramatic fashion on June 28 in Eureka by besting the Redwood Empire team in a two-game playoff, after both teams rose to the top of the tournament bracket in Cutten.
2. Eel River Little League All Star baserunner Merek Sears beats the throw home as Redwood Empire catcher Cole Petrusha awaits the throw from a teammate on June 27 in Eureka.