ENCINITAS — Two years ago, the Encinitas Little League All-Star team made its deepest run ever in the Little League World Series, making it all the way to the penultimate round of the regional tournament.
This week, several members of that team are part of the Encinitas Little League Junior All-Star team, composed of 13- and 14-year-old ball players, which again is making a deep run in postseason play.
The Juniors recently won the Southern California Junior Championship and advanced to the Western Region tournament in Vancouver, Wash., where it won its opening pool-play game 21-10 Wednesday against a Northern California team.
“This is a very big deal for these boys and for the community that has rallied around them,” said Bob Buscher, who manages the All-Star group.
The 14-member team includes six members of the 2014 team that captured the region’s admiration as they came one game away from a shot at advancing to Williamsport, Pa.
This team, however, nearly saw its postseason aspirations end early, as it trailed in a District 31 elimination game against the 4S Ranch All Stars. Down to its final strike and trailing by one in the seventh inning, the boys mounted a comeback and ultimately won the game, and eliminated 4S Ranch two days later, Buscher said.
They have been dominant since, he said.
“I think this is a team with a really high baseball IQ, and they really like each other and they pull for each other and never get down on each other, which is huge at this age,” Buscher said. “They do a lot of things well, it is a very versatile team.”
When asked to name standouts, Buscher said he could not narrow it down to individuals, because each of the 14 boys has stood out at moments during the current run.
“Everyone brings something to the table,” Buscher said.
Chaz Gagne, who coaches on the team, managed the 2014 team and has coached many of the current members since they were 6 years old. He said that Encinitas’ success in youth baseball — which includes both with ELL and the Encinitas National Little League — is a tribute to the community support of little league baseball, which has waned nationwide with the rise of competitive travel baseball.
“In other places you’ve had travel ball come in and say that little league is watered down, and we don’t feel that way at all in Encinitas,” Gagne said. “We want the kids to go and play ball with their friends and their neighbors and play with each other, and then have the competitive outlet of All-Stars for those who are looking for more competitive baseball.
“But I think it is also a testament to the community, which has really gotten behind baseball and has been a big part of why we’ve been so successful,” Gagne said. “I think a community deserves a huge thank you for how they have rallied behind us. I can’t tell you how many texts and emails we have received from people following the games on a live stream…the community has been absolutely great.”
When asked about the future of the boys on the team, Buscher said he envisions that all of the boys will play high school varsity baseball and some will have opportunities to play college baseball, if they so choose.
“I think they clearly have the ability to,” Buscher said.