Rancho Santa Fe Sports

Jay Paris: Encinitas Little League wins SoCal title, with their sights on the LLWS

Love these newfangled GPS devices but can you really trust them?

Consider the one employed by Encinitas Little League’s All-Star team. It punched in Encinitas as the starting point with San Bernardino as the destination.

The route, though, was a bit curious, as ELL was pointed toward San Diego and El Cajon before reaching the Inland Empire.

But not once did someone beg the driver to pull over and ask for directions.

ELL was on the right road the whole time.

“It’s unbelievable,’’ ELL manager Chaz Gagne said.

ELL rolls into the IE one step away from the Little League World Series.

In advancing to the West Region Tournament, after claiming crowns around San Diego County, ELL is this close to reaching South Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series.

For the first time in ELL’s 57-year history, its team won the Southern California title on July 27. It did so with a dramatic rally in the final weekend, erasing a one-game deficit to eliminate Long Beach and win the best-of-three series.

When the final out nestled into left fielder Finlay Lumsden’s glove, a celebration was set off that stretched from the Fletcher Hills Little League complex to the Encinitas shores.

Or was anyone at the beach to boast?

Probably, but it seemed most of the city was at the deciding game, decked out in red, loud and proud.

“It looked like the Red Sea out there,’’ pitcher/outfielder Spence Jones said.

Not sure ELL departing to San Bernardino is a miracle but consider the odds. Nearly 600 SoCal teams would swap their summers with it.

The baseball-mad SoCal section is among the world’s toughest to survive.

But live on and play on is ELL’s motto and just how did this plucky bunch of kids pull this off?

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“I’m at a loss for words,’’ said Pete Gagne, Chaz’s son, and it was his gutty pitching performance on July 26 which staved off elimination.

“The biggest identity this team has is we don’t rely on any single person,’’ Chaz said.

Pete’s old man proved that in the SoCal title game.

He pegged Nick Sando as the starter, after he pitched one inning in the postseason. Sando was relieved by Ryan Martinez, who entered with a whopping three innings of All-Star work.

We’re pleased to report both pitchers remembered to breathe. We can’t say the same for their pacing parents.

But their teammates just shrugged, figuring someone else would come through.

“We have a lot of confidence,’’ said outfielder Niko Ortega, who crushed a homer in the championship game that might still be traveling. “It comes from the players and the coaches.’’

ELL continues an amazing run of success for North Coast teams.

Oceanside American went to the LLWS in 2001. Solana Beach’s 2007 squad reached the West Region final.

Eastlake of Chula Vista is the defending U.S. champion and its players met with ELL before its charter bus headed for San Bernardino.

“It’s amazing that they reached out to us and talked to the kids about what to expect,’’ Chaz said. “But we’ve heard from a lot of teams around San Diego County.’’

That includes leagues ELL ousted — maybe because Gagne requires his players to smack the ball and not their lips.

After each game ELL players and coaches remove their hats, stand before the other team’s boosters and applauds them for attending.

Class act by a class team.

“That’s the one thing I’m most proud of,’’ Gagne said. “You can see it in other fans’ faces that they appreciate the effort from our boys and how they carry themselves as competitors and not showboats.’’

The West Region schedule shows five games in six days for ELL, starting Saturday against Hawaii.

“Sleep well and pack a big lunch,’’ Gagne will tell his team.

Good advice because one can’t dream with eyes open. For 14 Encinitas kids, those Little League World Series aspirations still breathe.


Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports


West Region schedule

Saturday: ELL vs. Hawaii, 4:30 p.m.
Sunday: ELL vs. Northern California, 7 p.m.
Monday: ELL vs. Utah, 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday: ELL vs. Nevada, 8:30 a.m.
+ All games on espn3.com