SOLANA BEACH — For the first time since 2007, the Solana Beach Little League Juniors took home the District 31 championship and earned a spot in the San Diego regional tournament.
Led by starting pitcher Jason Jutronich in the championship game July 7, Solana Beach took down Encinitas National Little League, 4-1.
Connor Sawyer sprinted home with what ended up being the winning run on a passed ball in a 1-1 game, and Gavin Conley’s two RBI in the top of the seventh inning broke it open for Solana Beach.
“I’m sure every coach says this, but this really is a special group of kids,” said Coach Jai Shah, who has coached in Solana Beach Little League for seven years. “Solana Beach hasn’t won District 31 since 2007 when our majors team advanced, so it’s a pretty big deal for us.”
Pitching was the key to Solana Beach’s success in the District 31 tournament with Jutronich finishing with a complete game to help his team defeat Encinitas National in the championship game. In the team’s semifinal win, Jackson Noonan pitched 6 ⅓ innings with just one earned run allowed.
“Some of these kids, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them end up playing Division I or Division II college baseball,” Shah said. “They’re that good.”
The Juniors Division of Little League baseball is made up of 13- and 14-year-old players and acts as a bridge between traditional Little League and high school baseball played on a full field with major league rules.
With the prevalence of travel baseball teams, the Juniors Division of Little League sometimes has difficulty attracting players. Travel clubs tend to draw most of the talent away from Little League. But this year, following the COVID-19 pandemic, Solana Beach Little League was able to generate significant interest.
“There’s nothing like playing for your town, it’s a different level of excitement for these kids,” Shah said. “And I credit our league president Dan Krems for basically telling our board that we were going to prepare like we’re going to have a season, which put us three to four weeks ahead of every other Little League in terms of getting kids out and ready.”
Leading up the Juniors season, travel baseball had essentially shut down, which also left an opening for the league to give opportunities for young players to get in playing time and reps.
“I think through that process we were also able to highlight what is so special about Little League for these kids, and I’m hoping the Juniors program will be able to sustain this going forward,” Shah said.
In the more immediate future, Solana Beach prepares to face District 70’s Vista American Little League on Saturday, July 17, at 11 a.m. at Shira Field at Lake Murray Community Park in San Diego.
“The kids are super psyched,” Shah said. “Again, to represent a town like Solana Beach as their last go-around for most of them with Little League, these are the memories that I think are going to be with them for a while
FEATURE PHOTO: (From left to right) Front Row: Griffin Hemerick, Nicholas Shah, Ryder Tootell, Jason Jutronich, Jake Price, Jackson Noonan, Alex Weinstein; Back Row: Joel Weinstein, David Alexander, Cy Alexander, Gavin Conley, Nick Aldrich, Connor Sawyer, Jai Shah (not pictured Breckin Germon).