They took opposite routes to get here.
The San Mateo National Majors All-Stars — now two tournaments from away from the Little League World Series in South Williamsport — are undefeated this summer, including three straight wins to capture the Section 3 championship banner Tuesday at Osage Station Park in Danville.
The San Mateo American 10-11s All-Stars suffered a loss in their Section 3 tournament opener, but rallied back with four straight wins, including back-to-back victories over Granada-Livermore in the championship round, to continue their quest for a potential state championship.
“I think that obviously helps us,” San Mateo American manager Jason Gordon said. “It’s hard when you have to do it. You have to play five games in a row … but I think these guys learned a lot about themselves playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders.”
Both roads have led to the same place though — the 2019 Little League Northern California State All-Star Tournament, opening Saturday. The Majors tournament will be hosted by Castro Valley Little League at Five Canyons Park. The 10-11s tournament will be hosted by Union Little League in San Jose at Mike Logan Park.
“Top me it feels like a reset button,” San Mateo National Dan Luzzi said. “For the kids, I’m sure there’s momentum. But for a coach, it’s a whole new game plan.”
National Majors’ 8-game win streak
National opened the All-Star season Saturday, June 22 with a 4-2 win over Pacifica American in the District 52 tournament. The hotly contested, low-scoring contest set the tone for the team. Now, having won eight straight games en route to District 52 and Section 3 titles, five of those games have been decided by two or less runs.
Pitching and defense have been National’s bread and butter, and they enter the Northern California tournament opener — Saturday against Maidu-Roseville at noon — with all but one of its pitchers available to throw. Only Tuesday’s starting pitcher, left-hander Josh Jacobs, will be unavailable until Sunday due to pitch-count limits, working 5 1/3 innings for a no-decision in the 3-2, extra-inning win over Danville.
Luzzi said Friday he was undecided as to who would pitch Saturday’s opener.
“It’s a crap shoot at this point,” Luzzi said. “I’m still thinking about it. I’m going to be thinking about it tonight. I probably won’t make the decision until just before the game, to be honest with you.”
Preferably, Luzzi would have turned to Jacobs for the opener. And this might have been an option had National received a first-round bye in the seven-team tournament.
Luzzi said it is tradition for the section hosting the tournament to receive the bye, as this has been the case for the past 16 years. With National’s Section 3 serving as host, however, Section 7 was listed as receiving the bye. Luzzi said it was due to a clerical error when Section 3 slated the bracket.
“[Jacobs pitching] would have been nice if we would have gotten the bye,” Luzzi said. “But we’ve just got to bite the bullet on that. It’s water under the bridge.”
American turns to another new starter
In opening the Northern California 10-11s tournament Saturday at 11 a.m. against Atwater Little League-Merced, San Mateo American will turn to its third different opener in three tourneys in right-hander Donovan Friedland.
“He’s always been a great pitcher,” Jason Gordon said. “We’ve been using him as our closer, but he’s been coming on here.”
In the District 52 tournament, American opened with left-hander Chase Gordon. In the Section 3 tournament, right-hander Hugo Guzman Jr. took the ball. Both Chase Gordon and Guzman are unavailable to pitch Saturday, however, due to pitch-count limits.
“We are entering unchartered waters here, but it is exciting at the same time,” Jason Gordon said. “We have to have some other guys step up.”
Pitching in relief of starter Chase Gordon, Friedland was the winning pitcher in Tuesday’s 2-1, walk-off with in the opening game of the championship round. Friedland has been even more impressive at the plate. And when he delivers in the No. 5 spot, it drives the American offense to big run totals.
Friedland went 3 for 3 in Monday’s 11-1 win over Warm Springs to reach the championship round. The left-handed hitter reached base three more times in Wednesday’s championship finale, and American won via mercy-rule 10-0.
“I would say we’re hitting as well as we ever have,” Jason Gordon said. “We’ve never been a really offensive juggernaut. … Top to bottom … it’s coming from anywhere for us.”
American hasn’t changed its lineup from No. 1 through 8 since opening District 52 play. The only tweak has been in the No. 9 spot, and that’s because Charlie Platz, the center fielder through the district tournament, did not play in the Section 3 tournament due to a family vacation.
Ian Chang stepped into the starting role and has made the most of the opportunity. With American’s back-to-back wins over Granada, Chang enjoyed a big showing. He had the game-winning hit in Tuesday’s 2-1 win. Then in Wednesday’s finale, he went 2 for 2 and added a sacrifice fly, and nearly made the play of the night with an all-out dive for a fading liner in the second inning that flicked off his glove and rolled away.
Update on Granada’s injured third baseman
Granada third baseman Taelin Alberts left Wednesday’s game after getting struck in the head with a throw ball. Jason Gordon — who coached Alberts earlier in the year with his Neptune Beach spring travel team — communicated with the Alberts family Thursday, and said he was feeling no ill effects.
“He’s totally fine,” Jason Gordon said. “We talked to his dad the next day. No concussion, no nothing.”