ELL Juniors competing for Western Region tourney spot


With its third tournament win of the summer last week, the Encinitas Little League Juniors All-star team is one step away from the Western Region event, where it would face the champions of Oregon, Hawaii and eight other states, plus the Northern California champs.

That step, the Division III title series (basically the Southern California championships), is being contested this weekend in Manhattan Beach. To reach the three-game D-III series, where it is taking on Dos Pueblos (Goleta), the District 31 and Section 6 champion ELL had to capture the SoCal South Sub-Division III crown by beating Laguna Nigel, 14-2, on July 23 in Rancho Cucamonga.

“The (Division III) series really puts a premium on pitching strategy,” said Encinitas coach Bob Buscher. “We are fortunate that we have a deep pitching rotation and hopefully that will really help us.”

That deep rotation was on display throughout the sub-division event, starting with a 7-0 opening-round victory over Section 7 champion Calexico. Local starter E.Q. Workinger pitched four shutout innings in the win, and four other pitchers — JP Kraus, Pete Gagne, Kai Haseyama and Nathan Laumann — combined to toss the last three scoreless frames. The five hurlers teamed up on a five-hitter.

With his team already ahead 3-0, ELL’s Jobe Cubillian put the game away with a three-run homer in the second inning.

Next up for Encinitas was Rialto Eastern, the winner of the Section 8 tourney. More good local pitching came from Laumann, who went five innings allowing a single run, and reliever Pete Gagne.

But despite their strong performances, Rialto had the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh with the tying run at the plate, so Buscher brought in Nick Sando, a left-hander. Sando thrived in the high-pressure situation, getting Rialto Eastern’s No. 3 hitter to ground out, ending the game with ELL on top 6-2.

That set up an entertaining semifinal matchup with Laguna Nigel. The 10-7 local victory came in a back and forth decision that featured five lead changes and saw Encinitas down 6-3 entering the bottom of the fourth inning.

In that frame, Kraus walked and was followed by consecutive base hits from Workinger, Sharp and Cubillian as ELL tallied three times to tie the game. LNLL responded with a run in the top of the fifth to retake the advantage at 7-6, but Encinitas came right back to take the lead for good in the bottom half.

Connor Blough got things started with a leadoff double, and scored the tying run when Kraus doubled right behind him. With Kraus still on second and two away in the inning, Cubillian, Gagne and Jack Maes hit back-to-back-to-back doubles, knocking in one run apiece to make it 10-7.

Not taking anything for granted in the title game rematch with Laguna Nigel, the locals took advantage of some walks and hit batters, and got some big hit of their own, in a nine-run top of the first inning.

“It was a combination of their pitchers struggling and our hitters having a great day,” Buscher explained. “We’ve been very patient at the plate (the whole summer). The kids are looking for their pitch to drive, so if a ball is off the plate, they will let it go and wait for a better one. They came in pretty (patient) but I’d like to think they’ve gotten a little more selective (as the summer has gone on).”

ELL sent 14 batters to the plate in that frame and the biggest blows came off the bats of Wyley Sharp (RBI two-bagger) and Maes, who smashed a two-run double.

After the nine-run explosion, Encinitas didn’t score again until the fifth, when it pushed five across to put itself in positon for a mercy-rule win. That victory, and the tournament title, were official when Workinger tossed a scoreless fifth inning. Workinger had come on for Laumann, who threw four innings on a brutal 106-degree day and gave up just two runs.