Saturday, August 17, 2013

Washington in the Little League World Series: Who They Are and How They Got Here

by Jackson Safon

Eastlake Little League, located in Sammamish, Washington has had some chances to get to the Little League World Series before, but never anything like this. Essentially only encompassing the area that feeds into Eastlake High School, Eastlake Little League is small enough that it only has one league in the area; as opposed to Redmond (both Redmond North and West), or Kirkland (American and National). It was not always this way however, as just six years ago Eastlake had an American and National team as well. With the amount of 12 year olds in the system seemingly getting smaller and smaller, as they do not need a second all-star team, one could question their chances of making the World Series. But this year there was a unique set of circumstances, along with an abundance of talent that allowed this group the opportunity to make history.

I, being an alumni of Eastlake Little League myself, and having an 11-year old brother in the league this year, have had a unique chance to meet most of the kids on the World Series team this year, and have been able to follow them throughout their all-star journey. Because of this, I will be able to give insight about the players that ESPN might not have, so before I talk about how they got here, let’s learn who they are.

The Players
Jack Carper: Jack is the leadoff man for the team and starting left fielder. He has a twin brother Adam, which you already know if you have watched even a second of the ESPN broadcast, and he is a very very good leadoff hitter. Jack has been a mainstay at the top of the lineup the entire all-star season for Eastlake, and batting between .400 and .600 throughout the various tournaments has helped him keep that spot. He is also a solid pitcher, reaching the low 60’s, but because of this team’s depth, he is merely the fourth or fifth option. Jack is a funny kid and a very successful baseball player.

Dalton Chandler: Dalton bats second for the team and is the starting shortstop. Dalton is one of my brother’s best friends, so I have had the privilege to get to know him more than some of the other players. I have also helped coach him in basketball. Dalton is one of the best youth athletes I have seen in a while. He excels at basically everything he tries, and while he is not necessarily the most skilled basketball player, he is still one of the best on the court because of his pure athleticism. He is an unbelievable shortstop, and although he hit a little bit of a cold spot in the regional competition, he is one of those kids that you legitimately think is going to get a hit every time he gets up. A good analogy would be how you expect Kevin Durant to hit a jumper every time he takes one. That’s how good of a hitter he is when he is on. Dalton also pitches for this team, which makes him one of the more versatile players on this team. In addition to being a great kid, I would consider him one of, if not the best player on this team.

Will Armbruester: Will bats third for the team and is the starting first baseman. Will is simply a monster. He is 5’11’’ and 160 pounds as a 12 year old. Although it hasn’t quite materialized at the plate in the all-star season, Will led the league in homeruns throughout the regular season and has a lot of pop in his bat. Although struggling with the curveball at times, Will is a masher and will drive in a lot of runs for this team.

Jacob Dahlstrom: Jacob is the starting third baseman (when he isn’t pitching) and bats fourth. But he is the unique set of circumstances I was talking about. Jacob is new to the area this year, but he doesn’t exactly live in the area. In fact, Jacob lives in Renton. So obviously one would ask why he plays for Eastlake Little League if he lives in Renton. Well there isn’t a Little League where he lives, so the rule is to play in the area of your school, and Jacob goes to Eastside Catholic, which is in the Eastlake zone. Considering Jacob has been the ace of the pitching staff and lead the team in homeruns, I think it is fair to say that adding him to the team this year has made a massive difference. I don’t think this team makes it this far without him.

Jack Matheson: Jack bats fifth and starts in center field. Jack is a very athletic kid, and another part of our three-headed monster of size, as he, Jacob, and Will are all between 5’10’’ and 6’. Jack is also the fastest player on the team and when he connects with a pitch at the plate, it gets to the outfield wall in a hurry, which results in lots of triples for the speed demon. He is also the second pitcher on the team and is a flamethrower, topping out at 74-75 miles per hour. Although he can be a bit of a wild card at times with his accuracy and his attitude, Jack is a crucial part of this team.

Dylan Matsuoka/Austin Oh: This is another unique storyline for this team, as Austin Oh, who many thought would be the starting second baseman for this team, broke his wrist two days after the team was announced and couldn’t return until the Northwest Regional tournament. This left Dylan to take his place. Both are very good athletes and good second baseman, but there has been a debate as to whom should get the start at second base. Both have made errors at times, and both have had some good hits. The most memorable moment however came in the regional final when Austin had a three RBI triple and a two RBI double. Both players are close friends with my brothers so I am rooting for them both, but it will be interesting to see how the playing time continues to work between the two of them.

Nate Fitzgibbons: Nate plays third when Dahlstrom pitches and center when he doesn’t. Fitz can be inconsistent at the plate, but has come up with some huge hits for the team, as he hit a game-winning homerun in the district tournament and had a clutch two out, two RBI single in the most recent game. He is a very athletic kid who is a crucial bat for this team as the team moves lower in the lineup.

Cameron Bowers: Bowers is the starting catcher for the team and has had a tumultuous all-star season behind the plate. At times he looks like the best catcher out there, but then the next inning he will allow two passed balls. I believe he is the right player for the job and really is a good catcher, but there have been a few more passed balls than I’m sure the coaches would like.

Bryce DeLay: DeLay is the starting right fielder for this team and bats ninth. He has the reputation as a hitter, and rightfully so, as he started off 7 for his first 9 in the regional tournament. He has cooled off some since, but his best asset is definitely his bat. In the outfield, he has made some spectacular plays, one even making it on the SportsCenter top 10. But there was also a time when he made an egregious error, so we will have to see which Bryce DeLay shows up in the field. He was on my brother’s team during the regular season, and is also new to the area from Texas, but Bryce DeLay could come up big for this team late in games.

Jack Titus: Jack is one of the players to come off the bench, but that does not mean he isn’t talented. Jack was one of the more skilled catchers during the regular season and although he is not a big kid, he can hit the ball pretty well. In the regional tournament he started 3 for 4, and came up with some really big hits for this team so do not be surprised if he gets some extra at-bats during the World Series.

Zach Olson: Zach is another one of the players to come off the bench for this team, but is another that has plenty of talent and deserves to be there. Zach made an appearance on the mound in the regional tournament and pitched very well, and has hit the ball very hard in a few of his at bats, so it is clear that he comes to play.

Jack Rud: Jack Rud is another bench player and another one of my brothers close friends so I have gotten to know him as well. Jack is a happy kid who definitely deserves to be on this team. He is often a pinch runner, but when he gets his at-bats he always finds ways to get on base. He takes advantage of his opportunities, as shown by his two clutch hits to keep his team in the game against Iowa.

Adam Carper: Adam is Jack’s twin brother, but is a slightly different player. He is not quite as good of a hitter but has just as good if not better speed, which makes him an excellent pinch runner. He is also one of the funniest kids on the team and never fails to make anyone laugh.

Eastlake Little League with their 2013 Washington State Championship pennant. Credit: Eastlake Little League
The Eastlake Little League All-Stars.
Eastlake Little League

How They Got Here
Now that I have finished introducing the team, and if you aren’t bored to death already, reading about Little Leaguer’s, I will give a brief overview of how they got here.

This Eastlake team is now 27-1 after winning their first World Series game, so obviously it wasn’t too difficult for them to get here, but what the ESPN guys don’t tell you is how critical a loss that was. Eastlake lost their very first game of the state tournament, which sent them down to the loser’s bracket, which for those of you who don’t know is very hard to escape because of the massive amount of consecutive games you need to play. They fought back and made it to the championship game, but because it was a double elimination tournament, they had to beat the champion of the winner’s bracket twice. To add even more drama, this team from Federal Way, was the same team that beat them in the very first game. But obviously Eastlake was able to pull out two victories and advance to the Northwest Regional.

In the regional they went 6-0, but they had to come back from big deficits in two of their games, being down by four runs in the fifth inning against Oregon, and the next game were down going into the sixth inning against Idaho.

The Eastlake Little Leaguer’s are a great group of kids, and with the pitching, hitting, and depth that this team has, I don’t see why they couldn’t win the whole thing. Be sure to stay tuned.

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