Ventura County produced the best 15-year-old and 18-year-old Little League teams in Southern California this summer, and the 15-year-olds advanced to within one opponent of the World Series. It marked the first time that District 13 (Oxnard to Thousand Oaks) has had two state divisional champions in the same season.
The Conejo Valley 15-year-olds defeated Everett, Wash., 16-13, and Spring Valley, Nev., 3-2, last week in the four-team Western Regional Senior League tournament after falling into the losers' bracket with a 14-4 loss to Union City, Calif. Union City eliminated Conejo Valley, 5-4, Friday and advanced to the World Series.
Conejo Valley (14-4) won district, sectional and divisional tournament championships to advance to the regional as the representative of Southern and Central California.
The District 13 Big League team, composed mostly of players from Hueneme and El Rio, won seven consecutive games to sail through the sectional and divisional tournaments before losing two in a row last week at the Western Regionals in Long Beach.
First baseman Vince Reynoso, right fielder David Frazier, second baseman Adrian Estrada and left fielder Reyno Ortega were the top hitters for the Big League team. Julio Gonzalez, Tim Beal and David Soliz combined to do the pitching.
Four pitchers divided the work almost evenly for the Conejo Valley Senior team. Left-hander Chris Loll (4-1) pitched four complete games and left-hander Adam West (3-1) pitched two two-hit shutouts and struck out 44 in 32 1/3 innings. Right-hander Andy Bushart (4-1) led the staff by allowing only 38% of opposing batters to reach base. Right-hander Jeff Naster (3-1, two saves) led the team with a 1.62 earned-run average.
Second baseman Ryan Kritscher and West--who played first base when not pitching--were the top Conejo Valley hitters. Kritscher, the leadoff batter, hit .500 (39 for 78), drove in a team-leading 20 runs, scored 22 runs and struck out only once in 86 plate appearances. West hit .413 and had eight doubles and three home runs.
Left fielder Jeff Olin and catcher Cory Bowen each batted .339. Olin led the team with 11 stolen bases and Bowen had six extra-base hits. Outfielder Trent Martin batted .313 and shortstop Brian Capella batted .304 with 13 RBIs.
Center fielder Bryan Corey and third baseman Michael Moore helped bolster the Conejo Valley defense. Joe Liou batted .333 and had six stolen bases, Jim Colocchio batted .500 in a pinch-hitting role and Craig Arnold and Richard Murray each batted .333.
Conejo Valley showed a remarkable ability to overcome odds and win close games.
After losing to Northridge, 15-2, in the sectional, the team came back to win three games, including two in a row over Northridge. Conejo Valley opened divisional play the following day and defeated San Diego, 8-0. In a second-round game, Rowland Heights, which had eliminated Conejo Valley two years ago in the 13-year-old tournament, took a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning. Conejo Valley rallied to tie the score and eventually won, 4-3, in nine innings.
In its next game, Conejo Valley turned double plays with the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings of a 3-1 win over South El Monte and advanced to the championship round. South El Monte defeated Conejo Valley, 7-1, to force a championship game, which Conejo Valley won, 10-4.
After dropping the regional opener to Union City, Conejo Valley outslugged Everett, which loaded the bases with none out in the seventh and failed to score.
Conejo Valley's last victory also included seventh-inning thrills. Spring Valley advanced a runner to third with one out but a suicide squeeze attempt failed and West struck out the final batter.