SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — To appreciate the Eastlake Little League team, consider the Sammamish players’ 16-2 victory over Cody, Wyo., in the Northwest Regional last week.
Eastlake, which opens the Little League World Series Thursday at noon against Corpus Christi, Texas, led Cody, 9-2, after five innings. Comfortable, but not enough for a mercy-rule victory.
Eastlake players enjoyed the fact that they got some extra hitting. For kids who just love to play, it was more fun than a mercy-rule victory.
During the eight days of the regional tournament, Eastlake’s 12-and-under all-star team showed joy whether it was playing, talking to the media, or plotting to dump water over manager Rob Chandler after defeating Billings, Mont., 13-1 in the championship game.
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No matter what the score, Eastlake players seemed to be smiling. Said shortstop Dalton Chandler, the manager’s son, of beating Cody: “We liked it more because we can use some more at-bats.”
Eastlake started with three easy victories, but Lake Oswego proved more difficult. The Oregon team scored three first-inning runs and stretched the lead to 5-0 in the bottom of the third.
Eastlake looked sluggish, having started the game at 9 a.m. after finishing a game at 10:30 the previous night.
“We were flat, and I think we might have been sleeping through the first couple of innings,” Rob Chandler said.
Despite trailing 5-3 after five innings, Eastlake players stayed upbeat.
“I knew we would come back. The fifth inning is our inning,” said Will Armbruester, who credits his successful hitting (9 for 17 at regionals) to his lucky socks. Armbruester’s single in the top of the sixth tied the game and loaded the bases.
Jacob Dahlstrom followed Armbruester’s single with a grand slam to give Eastlake a 9-5 lead.
“I just wanted to see a good pitch, be patient, and rack it,” said Dahlstrom, who had four home runs and 11 runs batted in, with 22 strikeouts on the mound during the tournament.
Everyone on the team seemed to contribute. Jack Matheson allowed one run and struck out seven in four innings.
“I wanted to be out there at the end because the celebration is usually around the mound,” Matheson said.
Outfielder Bryce DeLay, the No. 9 hitter, was 8 for 13. Austin Oh started at second base until breaking his left arm, but Dylan Matsuoka stepped in. Oh returned for the Northwest Regional and was a big contributor.
Now Eastlake is at the Little League World Series — the team’s third road trip in about five weeks.
Despite spending Sunday on airplanes and buses, the team is still smiling.
“This is every Little League player’s dream — to play in Williamsport,” Armbruester said.
Eastlake has a website (www.gofundme.com/Eastlake12u) to raise money to help parents pay for the trip to Williamsport. By Monday, they had raised more than $14,000, with a goal of $25,000.