The Coast News Group
Community Encinitas Sports Sports

Jay Paris: ELL has a summer to remember with All-Star run

The scene was Jorge’s Tequila Factory and there was plenty of tacos and teasing.

Would you expect anything less from a table of baseball-loving teenagers?

Yep, the Encinitas Little League All-Star Juniors team was holding court at Jorge’s, an eatery in downtown Vancouver, Wash. The way the ELL players, coaches and supporters were sharing smiles and salsa, didn’t that bunch see Wednesday’s final score?

ELL fell to Hawaii, 2-1, in 10 innings for the Western Region Juniors title in a heartbreaking thriller.

But a heart mends quickly at 13 and 14 years old.

“You wouldn’t know if they won or lost,’’ ELL coach Chaz Gagne said.

Maybe those ELL players prevailed and we just don’t know it.

If ELL would have defeated Hawaii, it was headed to the national tournament just outside of Detroit.

Instead, look for 14 players to be frolicking in the waves as they let a historic summer sink in like so much suntan lotion.

“I’d say we accomplished exactly what we wanted to,’’ Gagne said. “We wanted this to be a journey and it was.’’

It took ELL from Escondido to Rancho Cucamonga to Manhattan Beach to an overflowing booth at Jorge’s, with kids clutching sweet memories and cherished sweat marks around their red hats.

Summer fun?

It’s tough to beat what ELL accomplished in winning the Southern California title, besting nearly 400 teams.

Bummer it’s done?

No doubt.

But with steady manager Bob Buscher and his coaches, John Dulich and Gagne, one loss won’t derail the bond this group formed and shares.

“It was such a great run with these kids,’’ said Gagne, who’s coached some of them since they were 6-year-old soccer players.

This summer was a kick, considering how ELL raced to the Western Region title game.

ELL was one strike away from being eliminated in the semifinals by Arizona before staging an epic rally.

Entering the final inning trailing, 8-5, ELL picked up a run and then Cooper Dulich’s two-out, two-strike, two-run hit tied the score. Then JP Kras drove in Connor Bough with the game-winner and some parents are still huddled behind the snack bar, too nervous to look.”Wow,’’ Gage said. “Down three with two outs? The other team thought it had won the game.’’

It reminded some ELL watchers of its Houdini act at the district level. ELL’s first tournament was almost its last, down again to its last strike against 4S Ranch.

Then Kai Haseyama drew a walk and was bunted over. Bough smacked a ball through the infield, with Buscher doing his windmill imitation at third base, waving in Haseyama with the winning run.

Unfortunately, the ball beat Haseyama to the plate. Fortunately, Haseyama contorted his body in ways that are unimaginable to sneak around the tag for the tying run.

Wyley Sharp followed with a walk-off home run and even if you were there, it was hard to believe.

“We got out of there by the skin of our teeth,’’ Gagne said.

Those pearly whites were on display at Jorge’s.

While disappointment came knocking at the end, it couldn’t erase a knockout of a summer. In ELL’s 60th season, this All-Star squad advanced farther than any other team in league history.

With ELL’s considerable All-Star success, that’s saying a mouthful.

What’s left unsaid is that North County owes a tip of the cap to the players.

The coaches?

They get two tips of the cap after spending 10 days in a modest hotel with 14 teenagers.

“We deserved to be here,’’ Gagne said. “We went 4-1 and the one loss came in three extra innings.’’

ELL went above and beyond in representing the area as well as it played baseball.

With that the crew paid its tab at Jorge’s, saying adios to baseball but hola to a summer put on hold.

“I guarantee you they will soon be down at the beach and playing in the water,’’ Gagne said of his players.

Come on in. Just take your cleats off first.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.