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State of Play By Mark Tennis    Golden State teams have won the U.S. or world title in Williamsport 20 times, which dwarfs the...

State of Play By Mark Tennis

   Golden State teams have won the U.S. or world title in Williamsport 20 times, which dwarfs the total from any other state.

   Every summer in a Pennsylvania community that is still small enough to have just one high school, tens of thousands gather at Howard J. Lamade Stadium outside Williamsport to watch 12-year-old boys (with a few 11-year-olds thrown in) compete for the crown of Little League World Series champions.

   California teams have become a force in the event, which began in 1947 and later became televised on ABC and ESPN. The state’s teams have won the title or reached the final game against an international opponent 20 times. The next highest states are Florida and Pennsylvania with just five similar finishes, although in recent years teams from Georgia and Hawaii have performed strongly.

   To qualify for the Little League World Series, a California team first must win the West Region title, which has been decided at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino since 1971. Both a Northern California and a Southern California champion head to San Bernardino and compete against teams representing Hawaii, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

   Even when a California team does not win the U.S. championship or the Little League World Series itself, it’s very rare for a California team not to be among the best. In 2012, that was the case when the boys from Petaluma (in Northern California) lost in the U.S. final to Goodlettsville (Tenn.) 24-16 in perhaps the wildest game in LLWS history. In that game, Petaluma scored 10 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to come back from a 15-5 deficit, only to see Goodlettsville score nine in the top of the sixth.

   The best player to have starred in the major leagues who played on a championship California Little League World Series team has been Carney Lansford, who was on the 1969 team from Santa Clara as a boy. Lansford went on to appear in a World Series three times for the Oakland A’s, winning once. He also won an American League batting title and was second in batting in another season.

   There have been three future NFL quarterbacks who played on California Little League teams that reached the finals in Williamsport. The first was Brian Sipe from El Cajon in 1961. He was followed by Gale Gilbert of Red Bluff (1974) and Matt Cassel of Northridge (1994).

   Here is a closer look at the 9 teams from California that have won it all or reached the title game (losing to an international opponent) since 1991:

   CHULA VISTA (2013): Four years after Park View Little League of Chula Vista went to Williamsport and won it all, nearby Eastlake Little League won the U.S. title but fell short in a 6-4 loss to Japan in the LLWS championship. Unlike the West Region tournament, when Chula Vista suffered a loss to Belmont-Redwood Shores (the Northern California team) only to bounce back and win 9-0 in the final, the San Diego County squad didn’t lose until reaching the final against the international bracket champion. 

   HUNTINGTON BEACH (2011): Nick Pratto came through for the Californians with a bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to give them a 2-1 walk-off win over Japan in the championship game. For the series, Huntington Beach outscored its foes by a remarkable 35-3 margin. 

   CHULA VISTA (2009): Of all the California teams to have won it all in Williamsport, this one may have to be regarded as the most imposing. Led by 6-foot-2, 212-pound Luke Ramirez, Chula Vista set a record with 19 home runs en route to its world title. In the U.S. championship, Chula Vista (managed by Oscar Castro) scored nine runs in the first inning en route to a mercy-rule 12-2 victory against San Antonio (Texas). In the final, it came from behind to beat Chinese Taipei 6-3. 

   THOUSAND OAKS (2004): History wasn’t on the side of the Californians in the championship game as Willemstad of Curacao became the first team from a Caribbean island nation to win the title with a 5-2 triumph. Thousand Oaks won the U.S. championship with a 3-0 win over Preston (Md.). Sean McIntyre shined in that game with three hits, two RBIs and was the winning pitcher. 

   MISSION VIEJO (1997): In the most heartbreaking final for a California team, Mexico scored four times in the bottom of the sixth inning to beat Mission Viejo 5-4. Nick Moore’s third homer of the week helped Mission Viejo take a 4-1 lead into the sixth, three outs away from the world title. The California squad (managed by Jim Gattis) crushed Bradenton (Fla.) 12-1 in the U.S. championship.

   NORTHRIDGE (1994): This team served as inspiration to a community that had been devastated seven months earlier by a 6.7 magnitude earthquake that left 57 dead. The Northridge boys shut out Springfield (Va.) 3-0 in the U.S. final on a one-hitter by Nathaniel Dunlap and a three-run homer in the first inning by Spencer Gordon. In the final against Venezuela, Gordon homered in the fifth to cut the score to 4-3, but the Californians couldn’t get the tying run across. 

   LONG BEACH (1993): Jeremy Hess came through with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the sixth to give Long Beach a 3-2 triumph in the final over Panama. The win on the field contrasted sharply with the year before when Long Beach lost to the Philippines only to learn one month later of Philippines having used illegal players. In the U.S. final, Sean Burroughs threw his second no-hitter of the week and crushed a pair of homers as Long Beach trounced Bedford (N.H.) 11-0. Burroughs had perhaps the best career of any player in Little League history. 

   LONG BEACH (1992): The first of an unprecedented two straight LLWS crowns for Long Beach did not get decided on the field. The California boys had lost 15-4 to the Philippines, but one month later were awarded the title due to ineligible players being used by the international squad. Long Beach earned the U.S. title by defeating Hamilton Square (N.J.) 1-0 with 11-year-old Sean Burroughs throwing the shutout and Ryan Beaver hitting a home run in the sixth inning.

   DANVILLE (1991): Jason Barringer ripped a pair of homers and Kevin Graham had a three-run shot as Danville (representing the San Ramon Valley Little League) cruised past Staten Island (N.Y.) 13-4 to earn a trip to the championship game. The California team (managed by Troy Ward) was shut down in the final 11-0 by Taiwan. 


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