A pair of pint-sized heavyweights traded figurative blows on a dank and dusty Thursday evening.
Their arena was in front of a packed house on the baseball diamond tucked inside Oro Valley’s James D. Kreigh Field.
The teams, the hosting Canyon del Oro and visiting Western Little League, traded figurative blows over the course of two games of the division championship.
Western took the first leg last Wednesday, June 27, storming back from an early 6-1 deficit to prevail, 10-6.
The four-time defending league champions didn’t miss a beat on Thursday, trading runs with CDO early—before scoring four unanswered runs in the game’s fifth inning to take a 10-8 lead they’d never relinquish.
Thursday’s victory clinched the league crown, a testament to the team’s camaraderie and perseverance, according to Western coach Eric Leon.
Leon believes his west side Tucson squad has found success of-late thanks to its mixture of on-field experience and steely resolve.
“I think it’s these kids just staying together,” Leon said. “They’re all friend, they play club ball together. We’ve been playing together for four years. These kids know me. I know the little hand gestures. They know what I’m talking about, you know, I know what they’re doing.”
Western’s championship effort on Thursday night came after falling in an early 3-0 hole. They responded quickly, with Andres Castro driving in the tying run on a single.
They responded again in the fifth, after giving up four unanswered runs to CDO, with Andrew Taylor and teammates Xavier Torres and Miguel Translavino driving in runs for Western.
Leon was proud of his team’s ability to fight through adversity in the tournament, responding each time they fell behind with gusto.
“We came out a real slow, our bats weren’t very good,” Leon said. “We weren’t hitting the ball, but we managed to squeak out some runs. As we kept playing every game, our bats just started coming alive all the way down here to this championship game.”
Leon said he’s proud of his team’s resolve, praising his player’s ability to do the little things right when it mattered most.
“They battled from the first game,” he said. “They struggled from the beginning and finished it at the end. And that’s what stood out for me.”
Thursday’s defeat was a tough pill to swallow for longtime CDO Coach Ernie Alvarez, with his squad falling in back-to-back games with a championship on the line.
For Alvarez, the defeat comes with a slew of silver linings, including the joy that he experienced coaching a cadre of talented players.
“This year’s team was awesome. I mean, we had heard all around great team. I mean 1-12. We had great hitting, great fielding,” Alvarez said. “It was just an unfortunate ending. A few things didn’t happen for us, but that’s baseball.”
Alvarez praised his players’ work ethic and resolve in the double-elimination tournament, saying their collective mettle will not soon be forgotten.
“They’re all really competitive, but more importantly, they’re all really, really good kids,” Alvarez said. “It’s a fun group. The kids really understand baseball, and it’s just something I love to do.”
The longtime Little League coach hopes his team can take positives away from their season together, so they can continue to grow as ballplayers.
“It’s just a life lesson life lesson,” he said. “Life doesn’t go your way all the time. You know, you need to just learn from it. If you’re learning from it, you’re winning.”
Around the League
Other District 5 squads that clinched their division championships include the Oro Valley Little League 10-and-under squad, which beat Tucson Little League 6-5 in their league championship game on June 27.
The Thornydale Little League 10-and-under softball team won its league championship, defeating Tucson Mountain Little League in the championship game on June 22, 8-7.
The Marana Little League 11-and-under softball team won its league championship on June 23, defeating Thornydale 27-23 in the championship round.
State playoffs for each division take place at various sites around Phoenix on July 12 and 13, with the winners of each bracket advancing to nationals later this summer.