Encinitas National 11’s edge ELL to reach D31 finals

Other than champion Del Mar American, the teams from Encinitas and Encinitas National Little League played the longest in the Little League District 31 9/10/11 All-star tournament, which wrapped up July 8 when DALL knocked off ENLL in the title game.

That 13-2 decision came two days after a memorable all-Encinitas matchup in the semifinals, which ended with ENLL on top, 7-5.

In that contest, ELL took an early 3-0 lead behind strong pitching from Brendan Alvarez and the big bat of David Pinto.

But in the third inning, Encinitas National slugger Jake Paul blasted his third home run of the tournament, putting his team on the scoreboard and waking them up in the process.

“We kind of had our backs against the ropes but then we rallied around that home run,” said ENLL skipper Kelly Kline. “In a couple of our games, especially against Encinitas, it was all about us gelling as a team and picking each other up.”

Still losing 4-1 an inning later, Encinitas National began to chip away, eventually taking over the lead in the fifth thanks to clutch hits from Rece Vance and Taylor Butterstein.

After Braeden Holland started the game for ENLL, Paul took the mound in the second to pitch three-plus strong innings. With his team now in the lead, Butterstein came on to shut the door on ELL.

The victory sent Encinitas National to the tournament title game, where it faced a Del Mar American squad that it had lost to a few days earlier.

It was fitting that the two teams collided in the championship contest, as they had met in the D31 10-year-old tourney finals last season, with ENLL coming out on top.

In this year’s tournament, Encinitas National also posted wins over Valley Center (8-5) and Carmel Mountain Ranch (13-8).

Against VCLL, home runs by Theo Lewis and Paul keyed the ENLL comeback.

“We had spotted them a couple-run lead early on, and when Theo hit his home run it was one of those light-switch moments,” Kline explained. “Next thing you know, we started cranking out a bunch of hits. We took off like a rocket and never looked back.”

That rocket ship blazed all the way to the championship game, surpassing the expectations of the Encinitas National coaching staff.

“We were pleasantly surprised to be in the championship game without a No. 1 or even a No. 2 pitcher on the roster,” Kline said. “It took a good team effort, everyone working together to make that happen.”

Carson Tanner threw some good innings as part of that pitcher-by-committee approach and catcher Jacob Carman was a huge part of ENLL’s success. Infielders Hayden Kline and Caden Pinckes provided sparkling defense and other contributions came from Charlie Sawyer, Alex Vargas and Dante Rotchford.

Meanwhile, ENLL’s local rival from Encinitas also performed well to reach the semifinals. ELL opened with a bang, ripping Del Mar National, 25-6, before playing the eventual tournament champs tough in an 8-7 loss. Wins over Rancho Bernardo (12-2), Solana Beach (20-13), Carmel Mountain Ranch (16-0) and 4S Ranch (11-1) then put Encinitas in the semis.

Throughout that run, Casey Sharp, Joe Burke, Tyler Howard, Vaughn Peters, Aidan Breslin, Kyle Breslin, Sonny Garcia, Tyler Rapp, Matt Deetman, Greg Warrick, Shane Sakata and Luke Bailey all had strong performances.