It wasn’t what I expected, to say the least.
It’s not that I didn’t think NorCal champ Niles-Centerville Little League of Fremont could beat SoCal champ Corona National, because I knew it would be a good game and that NorCal had a shot.
But the fact that NorCal won by a 2-1 score at Jay Littleton Ballpark in Ontario was surprising. SoCal entered the game averaging 13 runs per game in going 5-0 before the finals and hadn’t scored fewer than nine runs in any game. NorCal averaged 12 runs per game and hadn’t scored fewer than seven in any game.
But Jack Veronin, who ptiched in NorCal’s thrilling 11-10, 10-inning win over Hawaii to end pool play on Saturday, and then closed the victory over Canyon Hills in the semifinals Monday, hadn’t thrown too many pitches in either game and was eligible to pitch Tuesday.
Veronin pitched a four-hitter, striking out five. After not playing for them last year, he said he came back to play for Niles-Centerville, “for one last time.” He’s already turned 17 and won’t be eligible for the Senior Division next year.
All of the players on Niles-Centerville attend Washington High School in Fremont, some playing on the JV and some on the varsity. The varsity, which included outfielder Cody Lebon, catcher Casey Jennings and shortstop Billy Nevin from the West champions, went just 7-18. Veronin said he was on the varsity this year, but isn’t listed on the roster or in the statistics online. Veronin is listed on the 2008 roster for Washington.
“I think it definitely helps,” NorCal manager Perry Romero said of having all the players from the same high school. “We’ve got about four or five from the varsity and six or seven from the JV team. They know each other. Last year I had guys from five different high schools.”
Now it’s on to the World Series in Bangor, Maine. Last year, the West Regional was in Ontario as well as Pearl City, Hawaii took home the crown. Pearl City went 2-2 in Pool Play at the World Series and didn’t advance to the semifinals.
Pearl City lost to the South champion 2-1 and to the Canada champion 5-2 in failing to reach the semis.
NorCal will have a similar road. Their pool includes the champions from the Southeast, Asia Pacific, Canada, and the host team.
This year’s Asia Pacific team is the same one from the Philippines that went 0-4 last year. It would seem that NorCal would be favorites over the host LIttle League from Bangor. If they win those two games, it would seem the Canada and Southeast games would be the key ones for the semifinals.
Although the West Regional wasn’t deep, with four teams head and shoulders above the rest of the teams (especially SoCal, Hawaii and NorCal), they played well in close games, so you’d have to figure NorCal has as good a chance as anyone at the World Series. Good luck to them.