If many of the names on the Los Gatos Little League Intermediate All Star team sound familiar, it’s because the vast majority of them played on the 12U team that advanced to the Northern California Divisional Tournament last year.
Well, the boys aged up a year and in the process have made history. Manager Andre Torres believes this is the first time in LGLL history it has fielded an Intermediate squad, which is a 13-and-under division. Los Gatos rolled the Section 5 Tournament competition, culminating with a 16-3, mercy-rule victory over Capitola/Soquel on July 3 at Quimby Middle School in San Jose.
In three games, Los Gatos outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 40-7. The competition got ramped up in NorCals, as Los Gatos lost its first game but rebounded to win its second contest on July 9 in Yuba City. Whatever happens the rest of the way, it’s been a historic season.
“It’s kind of sinking in with the boys that this is probably the first Intermediate championship in Los Gatos Little League history because I don’t think we’ve had a team in this division before,” manager Andre Torres said. “It was good to see it come all together.”
The roster includes Lucas Bottoms, Grant Browder, Ryan Carlisle, Cruz Catipon, Aarav Chugh, Nico Flores, Colton Kalin, TJ Lombardi, Cristian Machado, Kyle Matar, Brixton Mentz-Bonnifield, Jimmy Mort, Dexter Torres, and Skyler Levine with Andre Torres as manager and assistant coaches CT Kalin and Dave Lombardi.
The Intermediate Division is also known as 50/70, which refers to the differences in dimensions to the 12-and-under division and the Junior/Senior League, the 14-and-up division. The first number, 50, refers to the distance in feet from the mound to home plate, and the second number refers to the distance between basepaths.
In the 12U division, the distance from the mound to home plate is 46 feet and 60 feet between the bases. In the Junior/Senior League, the numbers match the Major League Baseball’s dimensions of 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound to home plate and 90 feet on the basepaths.
LGLL decided to form an Intermediate Division for a variety of reasons. Torres said Intermediate bridges the gap between the Majors 10-12U field dimensions and the Junior League specifications.
“Personally the jump from Majors to Juniors is kind of too big for some boys to play on,” he said. “So it’s more conducive for 13-year-olds who haven’t grown up all the way so to speak to play on the 50/70 field.”
With a couple of exceptions, this is largely the same group of boys who have aged up together for at least the last three years. Their dynamic run started at 10U and continued through last year to the NorCal round. In every age level, they’ve won District and reached the Sectional round. In some years, they’ve advanced all the way to NorCals.
“It’s a special group of boys and they find ways to keep going,” Torres said.
Los Gatos plays in District 12, which Torres said is the only district in the surrounding area that prior to this year didn’t have an Intermediate league with multiple teams. Thus, as the only Intermediate squad in District 12 this season, Los Gatos received a walkover into the Section 5 Tournament.
Despite its dominant run in sectionals, things didn’t actually start out well for Los Gatos as it lost No. 1 pitcher Bottoms in the opening game just 10 pitches in.
“Things started off rocky and the team was kind of shell shocked in the moment,” Torres said. “But they rallied to close it out.”
Even with the big loss of Bottoms, Los Gatos is deep and balanced. Mentz-Bonnifield, Lombardi and Bottoms’ added injury replacement, Levine, are more than capable of getting the job done on the mound. Carlisle has been an offensive tour de force along with Chugh.
Mort hit a walk-off home run in the Section 5 opener and Dexter Torres hit a walk-off homer in the second game. Catipon, an effective lefty, pitched four scoreless innings.
“When you win games the way we did in Section, everyone is contributing in one way or another,” Torres said.
Torres started floating the idea of assembling an Intermediate team for 2023 during last year’s all star tournament season. Like many other parents in LGLL, Torres didn’t even know there was an Intermediate Division until he turned on ESPN one day and saw the Little League World Series.
“It was weird,” he said. “I was flipping through channels and I saw this Intermediate Division, which I had never heard of before. Found out it was for 13-year-olds.”
Torres started spreading the word and encouraged and reminded the parents about the potential for an Intermediate Division in 2023. He credited LGLL President Chad Kutting and the board of directors for providing support and the framework to launch the division.
Last fall, Torres said they did a test run, asking other teams including Junior League squads to play some 50/70 scrimmages. And once one player and his family committed, it started a ripple effect.
“We banded together as a family and league,” Torres said.
The manager was encouraged because he said approximately 38 boys played in the league this year, from which an all star team was assembled.
“The goal now is to keep this going,” Torres said. “The Intermediate Division is great because it’s a bridge for that one year for them to get bigger and stronger to play on the Major League Field dimensions when they’re 14.”
It’s also a way to keep players in the Little League organization. Typically, players upon aging out of 12U will latch onto a travel ball club for the remainder of their careers through high school. But the Intermediate Division provides an avenue upon which friends can stay together at least one more year beyond 12U in the Little League umbrella.
For this Los Gatos Intermediate team, it wanted to run it back one more time as most of them have been on the same team since they were 10 years old.
“A lot of boys do just travel or quit baseball [after 12U] and this is an opportunity for another year to hang out with their buddies,” Torres said. “We keep eight to 10 boys instead of losing them, keep the boys playing baseball together which ultimately is the end goal.”