Over the years, the Los Gatos and Almaden Little League All Star teams have been involved in several great games, featuring precocious play and back-and-forth action.
On June 30, their 12-year-old All Star teams duked it out for the coveted District 12 tournament championship, and it was Los Gatos that came out on top, 3-1, at Union Little League Field in San Jose.
Los Gatos advances to the Section 5 Tournament starting July 14 at Pajaro Valley Little League Field in Watsonville.
The roster includes Connor Boese, Lucas Bottoms, Grant Browder, Ryan Carlisle, Cruz Catipon, Colton Kalin, Skyler Levine, T.J. Lombardi, Kyle Matar, Timmy McNeil, Brixton Mentz-Bonnifield, Jimmy Mort, Drew Oppenheimer and Aarav Chugh.
The team is managed by CT Kalin with assistant coaches Elliot Carlisle and Tom McNeil. Twelve of the 14 players played on the 11U team that won the Section 5 Tournament and finished third in the NorCal State Tournament last year.
“So proud of these boys,” Kalin said. “They’ve worked their tails off the last month and have just done a fabulous job. The character and heart they show just humbles me.”
All of the things Kalin mentioned about the team were on display in the title contest. Los Gatos was coming off an impressive 6-0 win over Lincoln Glen in the semifinal knockout round. The game before that, it suffered its only loss of the tournament, 18-9 to Almaden in its final pool play contest on June 25. However, Los Gatos knew it had already clinched one of four spots in the knockout semifinal round, so the final pool contest was rather inconsequential.
In the rematch, Los Gatos had reason to be confident as it had Levine on the mound. The right-hander allowed nine hits and struck out nine over the full six innings, the first time a Los Gatos pitcher has gone the distance in the six games they’ve played so far this season. Utilizing a fastball, curve and slider, Levine did well against a potent Almaden lineup.
Levine faced a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the fourth inning, but he delivered in the clutch, recording a strikeout and inducing a groundout to escape the threat.
“Skyler has been there before and has a lot of experience in postseason play,” Kalin said. “He’s a phenomenal pitcher and competitor. He was our guy on the mound today and we were going to go with him for as long as we could.”
Both teams scored a run in the third inning, but Los Gatos added two more in the pivotal top of the fifth to make the difference. Oppenheimer singled with one out, no small feat as he fouled off five pitches before that.
Following a popout, McNeil legged out an infield single. On the play, the throw went into foul territory in shallow right field, allowing Oppenheimer to score. Chugh followed with a run-scoring single to account for the final margin.
Both Oppenheimer and McNeil displayed tremendous speed on the basepaths as they flew around the bases to slide into home plate safely in the decisive fifth. Lombardi was the lone Los Gatos player who had multiple hits.
The team also played tremendous defense, finishing with no errors to Almaden’s two. Playing shortstop, Carlisle made a tremendous play in the first, smoothly backhanding a sharply-hit grounder before throwing to second base for the force.
Instead of runners at first and second with one out, Carlisle’s play made it two outs with just a single runner on first. Second baseman Mentz-Bonnifield had a nice leaping catch in the second and Oppenheimer did his usual solid job at catcher.
What Kalin loves about the team is that one through 14, everyone makes a difference.
“We always tell these boys they’re a little different than a lot of other teams that have 4-5 good players,” Kalin said. “Everyone here contributes to every single game, they motivate each other and are just a phenomenal group of boys. That’s our biggest mantra before each game, to play loose and have fun, and when they do, they play great baseball.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]