When the Belmont-Redwood Shores 10-11 all-star team saw its season end with a loss to Pacifica American in the District 52 championship game, BRS coach Tom McGuire said to keep an eye on the BRS 11-12 all-star team.
Apparently, McGuire knew what he was talking about. The Belmont-Redwood Shores 11-12 all-stars became the first District 52 team ever to advance to the Little League Western Regional tournament in San Bernardino following a dominant weekend in the Division 2 tournament Roseville.
Ravenswood Little League of East Palo Alto was the first San Mateo County team to advance to the Western Regional tournament, making the championship game in 1967, but it was part of District 11 at that time. It has since moved to District 52.
Winning the Western Regional would send Belmont-Redwood Shores to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“Whenever you get this far, it’s got to be a bit of a surprise,” said Belmont-Redwood Shores coach Rudy Lopez. “I don’t think anyone goes into this expecting to get this far.
“I expected us to do well in district. I thought we could compete in section and thought we had a good chance to win. In division, I thought we’d compete. Now we’re just on house money. We’re just going down there and competing. I’m confident in the group of boys we have going down there.”
BRS will leave Wednesday morning for San Bernardino and will be one of six teams competing in the Western Regional. Other states represented are: Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Southern California and Utah. BRS opens play at 4 p.m. Friday against Arizona. After a day off, it plays Hawaii at 9 a.m. Sunday. BRS will take on Utah at 11:45 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5 and cap pool play with a showdown at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Southern California.
The top four teams then advance to a single-elimination, four-team tournament bracket, with the winner going to Williamsport.
“I’ve told them to just have fun, to play baseball,” Lopez said. “The kids are very low key. They’re not excitable. They keep their emotions in check. But honestly, I don’t know if they know what’s in store for them. I don’t know if they realize they’ll be playing in front of thousands of people.”
BRS definitely has the horses to compete on the big stage and the players are accustomed to winning. Since the all-star season started, BRS has compiled a record of 13-1, having outscored the competition 141-32, averaging just over 10 runs per game.
The scary thing is, Lopez believes his offense hasn’t hit its full stride.
“Some of our hotter hitters in the early rounds have cooled a little bit. We didn’t put the ball in play as much as we like. Some of the kids have gotten hotter, which I what I’ve been waiting for,” Lopez said. “We haven’t had all five of our big hitters hot at once, which is what we need going forward.”
Belmont-Redwood Shores’ only loss so far this summer was a 2-0 defeat by Santa Cruz — the team it beat twice over the weekend to win the Division 2 tournament.
“[My team] understood the (Santa Cruz) pitcher was one of the best pitchers in the country,” Lopez said. “After the game, I told them to trust me. I had a plan. One loss wasn’t going to dishearten them.
“Obviously we lost on Wednesday, but I had set up my pitching so we would have our three main guys going (the rest of the tournament).”
BRS executed the plan to a “T.” In Friday’s elimination game, Brad Shimabuku pitched a three hitter, striking out six in a 12-1, five-inning win. Saturday, in the first game of the championship series, Nicolas Lopez pitched a no-hitter in a rematch with Santa Cruz, a 2-0 BRS win. And then the coup de grâce Sunday was Sean Lee adding to his burgeoning legend, striking out 17 in a 9-0 win over Santa Cruz that clinched the Northern California championship.
“I’ve been waiting for Nicolas. When he’s on, he’s pretty dominant. Saturday’s game gave me some hope he is regaining his form,” Lopez said. “It’s a great feeling as a coach (having three strong pitchers). … It’s a luxury.”
Now, BRS will take on the best the rest of the Western United States has to offer.
“I don’t think I’ve slept very well (recently), but it’s fun being on the field with your son (Nicolas) and his friends, boys you’ve seen mature from the time they were 8 years old. It’s been more enjoyable than nerve-wracking.
“We’ve faced everyone’s aces and we’ve acquitted ourselves pretty well. I think [we’ll] be prepared and won’t be shocked.”
While Belmont-Redwood Shores will be heading to the Western Regionals, it won’t be cheap and it won’t be free. Lopez said parents and families are still on the hook for travel, lodging and food expenses.
“It’s not just a monetary expense but a time commitment,” Lopez said. “Our league is trying to help us and hopefully do a little fundraising. I’m sure the league will be able to pitch in a little bit.”
If you would like to help the Belmont-Redwood Shores team and families defray some of the costs, go to www.belmontlittleleague.org and click the “donate” button.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.