Encinitas Juniors Little League squad takes D31 title

Behind a stellar pitching performance from right-hander E.Q. Workinger and a five-run explosion in the top of the sixth inning, Encinitas used a 5-1 win over host 4S Ranch on June 30 to capture the Little League All-stars District 31 Juniors title.

ELL was still alive to play in the championship contest thanks to clutch hitting two days earlier from Connor Blough, who singled home Kai Haseyama to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Wyley Sharp, who blasted a walk-off homer to left field in the first extra frame. With 4S Ranch reaching the title round from the winner’s bracket, the locals needed that first 2-1 win and the June 30 victory to wrestle away the crown.

“I didn’t want the summer to end,” Sharp told the Encinitas Advocate. “(On June 28), I was leading off the inning … and (the pitcher) just left a fastball over the plate and I tried to drive it. Everyone was yelling just to get on (base) and I really wanted to win, I just got lucky and hit it over the fence.”

After winning the D31 tournament — which was played at the 4S Ranch Sports Complex — ELL qualified for the Section 6 tourney and will open on July 9 at 1:30 p.m. at Hidden Valley Middle School in Escondido.

Expect Encinitas to travel well, as its red-clad fans made up the majority of the more than 150 spectators cheering at the June 30 game. Sharp said that spurred on the team in the decisive sixth inning.

“We had more fans out here and that really drove us,” said the standout shortstop, who was one of a large group of ELL players that was on an 11-12 All-star squad that came within one step of the 2014 Little League World Series, bowing out in the West Regional.

Before his team’s big offensive inning, Workinger and 4S Ranch righty Tanner Lappin were locked in an impressive pitchers’ duel, each holding the opposing lineup scoreless through five innings. Workinger went the distance, allowing four hits — but just one that went out of the infield —and striking out four in a dominating performance. The one 4S Ranch run was unearned, and came after Encinitas was already ahead 5-0.

“Our team just performed really well, it feels amazing,” Workinger said. “We just came out and we fought. We fight hard, it’s really fun to play with this team.

“(On the mound) everything was working. My offspeed was working and I was locating my fastball really well. My catcher Pete (Gagne) was calling everything right.”

After going pitch-for-pitch with the ELL hurler through five innings, Lappin finally blinked first — with Workinger providing the initial spark. Workinger led off the sixth inning by smashing a double down the left-field line, then 4S Ranch intentionally walked Sharp. Jobe Cubillian followed by ripping an RBI double to center field, before a 4S Ranch error made it 2-0.

One batter later, Nick Sando kept the Encinitas rally going with an RBI double to left-center, knocking Lappin out of the game. New pitcher Sam Roberts got a rude introduction when Nathan Lawman singled in the fourth ELL run, then the crafty Cooper Dulich put a surprise bunt down and Sando scampered home to make it 5-0.

The 5-1 win was the biggest spread in any of the three games the two teams played in the tournament, as 4S Ranch handed Encinitas its only loss in a 3-2 decision on June 23.

In posting blowout victories over Del Mar (10-0 and 11-1) and Escondido National (15-0) in the other D31 contests, ELL got additional contributions from J.P. Kans, Jack Maes, Tanner McGonlough, Cody Martinez and Jean Alvarez.

“There’s 14 All-stars on this team, 14 kids that have all come together as one,” said Encinitas skipper Bob Buscher. “Everybody did something (to help us win in this tournament.)”

Also participating in the tourney was a squad from Encinitas National Little League that saw strong play from Tommy Griffitts, Aleks Rezler, Conner Kling, Scott Belin, Bob McFadden, Trystan Patterson, Danny Tautges, Logan Vallecorsa, Jeremy Pealman, Andy Pueschel, Nick Sylvester, Jack Ulman, Tyler McKenzie and Carlos Murrietta.