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LONG BEACH : Written Off, Little Leaguers May Write Final Chapter Themselves : Baseball: A stunning defeat did not rob the All-Stars of their steam. They avenged their loss and are four games away from the World Series.

August 12, 1993|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN BERNARDINO — Don Sappington has seen his share of Little League teams in the past 20 years, but he swears he's never seen anything like the Long Beach All-Stars' knack for winning.

"These kids have something in them that we adults just don't understand," said Sappington, a longtime Little League administrator, before Long Beach defeated Deer Valley of Glendale, Ariz., 13-4, in the opening round of the Western Regional Tournament here Tuesday night.

"There's no way I thought they'd be here," he added.

Written off less than a week ago after a crushing defeat, Long Beach is now four victories from another trip to Williamsport, Pa., and the Little League World Series, which it won last year. The next game is today at 5 p.m. against Spring Valley of Las Vegas, which has a 6-1 record.

If Long Beach wins, it will play Saturday at 8 p.m. A defeat would send the team into the losers' bracket Saturday at 2 p.m.

The winner of the 14-team, double-elimination tournament advances to the World Series, which begins Aug. 23.

Tuesday night, before a capacity crowd of 9,500, Long Beach had 10 hits, including three home runs. It was the team's sixth consecutive victory and 15th overall against one loss in all-star competition.

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A week ago, Long Beach, which averages more than eight runs a game, lost to Thousand Oaks, 16-1, in a divisional playoff game in San Diego. It was a stunning defeat that snapped a 31-game winning streak that spanned two seasons.

As it turned out, the loss didn't matter. Long Beach won five games in a row and captured the double-elimination divisional tournament Sunday. Along the way it avenged its loss to Thousand Oaks, 5-1, and hammered previously unbeaten Woodland Hills twice, 13-4 and 14-5.

As stunning as that one loss was, the way Long Beach came back to win against great odds was equally as impressive.

"What happened last week was truly remarkable," Manager Larry Lewis said. "It would have been so easy for us to have come out flat after that loss. I saw that happen last year with teams we beat."

Indeed, something seems to be driving the players.

Explained pitcher/infielder Alex DeFazio, who hit a grand slam Tuesday night: "We weren't down. We made a good comeback and that shows how bad we want to win."

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Long Beach has scored in double figures in nine of its 16 games. Pitcher/shortstop Sean Burroughs leads the team in batting with a .750 average and 11 homers. He went two-for-four and drove in two runs Tuesday night.

It will take a superb effort for the Rogers Middle School student to break tournament records for hitting percentage (.800) and on-base average (.833) that he set last year. But even if he has just an average series, his teammates have the ability to pick up the slack.

Pitcher/first baseman Brady Werner is batting .400 and has hit eight home runs, including two on Tuesday. He was also the winning pitcher Tuesday. DeFazio has hit four home runs and Timmy Lewis, the manager's son, has three.

A lot of that power can be attributed to Coach Jeff Burroughs, Sean's father and a former major leaguer.

"Jeff's big rule is to get a pitch that you want to hit," DeFazio said. "He doesn't want you to hit a pitch inside, or a pitch outside. He tells you to take the first pitch of the game to see what the pitcher has."

Last year, Larry Lewis, an attorney, took a vacation during the team's 1 1/2-month push to the World Series. But this summer he has to work.

He didn't get back to his Long Beach home following Tuesday's victory until early Wednesday morning. A business litigator, he was due in court in Los Angeles at 9 a.m. and in his Irvine office for a meeting at 11.

He was not sure whether he could get back to San Bernardino for the team's 4:30 p.m. practice.

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