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Citrus Heights Little League Proved A Worthy Distrcit 5 Host Team At The Senior Western Regionals. Story by JIM McCUE | Photos by JAMES... High 5

Citrus Heights Little League Proved A Worthy Distrcit 5 Host Team At The Senior Western Regionals.

Story by JIM McCUE | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH

With Major League Baseball pennant races still developing, July and August bring focus to the true boys of summer as Little League Baseball’s youngsters forego vacations in the hopes of making trips to World Series host cities like Williamsport, Pennsylvania and Bangor, Maine.

Bangor is the home of the Senior League World Series for players age 14 to 16. Recently, Sacramento played host to the West Region Championships of the Senior League World Series as teams from Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Washington converged on Sacramento’s American River College. Little League District 5 secured a three-year agreement to host the Western Regional tourney with 2016 bringing the World Series qualifying games to Northern California for the first time.

As the host, District 5’s champion, Citrus Heights Little League, was allowed to bypass further qualifying tournament play after claiming the district title in late June. San Lorenzo Little League won the District 45 championship and qualified for the eight-team field as well. For the NorCal teams, it was a chance to save some money on travel while showcasing local talent against the best in the West.

But as the host, Citrus Heights and District 5 had the eyes of Little League Baseball and the Western United States looking closely to see how Sacramento fared as a Senior League ambassador in its first year as home base for World Series qualifying.

“It is a big responsibility plus an incredible honor to be the face of the tournament,” said Citrus Heights Little League President Mara Crist. “It was important for the league to be there talent-wise, but also to display the integrity and sportsmanship necessary for the host team and league.”

The Citrus Heights team — which featured high school players from Del Campo-Fair Oaks, Mesa Verde-Citrus Heights, Casa Roble-Orangevale, Delta-Clarksburg, El Camino-Sacramento, Foothill-Sacramento and Oakmont-Roseville — might not have been expected to advance far in the regional tournament due to the perceived short cut to the World Series qualifier. However, the District 5 champions had their own expectations.

“We really thought we had a good team and we wanted to make a good showing playing against the best teams in the West,” Citrus Heights manager Jerry Garcia said. “We thought that we might have a chance to do something and we finished with a very respectable effort.”

Citrus Heights won its opener and finished 2-2 in the championship bracket before closing the week in the consolation bracket. In all, the team played seven games, taking the field on every day that the West Regional was held. Despite the heavy workload, Citrus Heights showed the visiting teams and Little League officials outstanding play and sportsmanship.

“I have always had a saying for the kids to ‘fear none, but respect all,’” said Garcia, who has coached in Citrus Heights Little League for 46 years. “I demand that my players respect every team and show good sportsmanship, and I believe that they represented the league and the district well.”

With the host team playing every day of the week-long tourney, local support was evident and necessary to pull off a successful inaugural event in Sacramento. Crist pointed to league members volunteering to work at the tournament and scores of others coming out to support the team even when its games were played in the middle of the day — and extreme heat — on week/work days. Garcia lauded the league and district’s assistance to allow him and his players to be model hosts and competitors on the playing field.

With the demanding schedule, Garcia also praised his full roster for playing hard from the first game to the last.

“At some point in the week, everyone on the roster stepped up and contributed,” Garcia said of his team. “Collin Quisenberry had a real good tournament, and my number one pitcher Max Mrizek had a rubber arm and just kept coming out and throwing. But you could put the whole roster down as players who stepped up in the regional tournament.”

Some players on the roster will age out of the Senior League to the Big League in search of a fourth consecutive district title, but Crist is eyeing a repeat for the league as hosts of the West Regional at American River College.

“We hope to be a part of the tournament again as the host league,” Crist said while also mentioning that District 5 is hoping to extend its time as West Region host beyond 2018. “It is such an honor to be on the road to Bangor, Maine, and having the games in Sacramento made it a really great time for our league and community.”

The team from Central East Maui Little League in Hawaii eventually earned the trip to Bangor where the Senior League World Series will conclude with a champion on August 6. The Hawaii squad went 6-1 in Sacramento, defeating both Northern California teams before beating Arizona for the title of Best in the West. In Bangor, Hawaii will represent the West and compete against domestic teams from Maine, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia and Texas, and international squads from Australia, Spain, Canada and Puerto Rico.

San Lorenzo, NorCal’s other representative at the West Regional, also posted a 2-2 mark in championship bracket play and added two more games in the consolation bracket. The two teams faced off early in the tournament with San Lorenzo dealing the hosts a 12-4 defeat before succumbing to eventual champion Hawaii 7-2 to get eliminated from the championship. San Lorenzo’s other championship bracket loss came at the hands of the other finalist, Arizona.

San Lorenzo earned its trip to Sacramento with titles in District 45, Section 3, and State Division 2 finals.

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