The Ocean View team from Huntington Beach participates in the opening ceremony… (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)
Starting pitching, physical strength, polish.
It usually takes all three to win the Little League World Series title and although Paul Weldon, a well-regarded Southern California youth baseball coach, may not be an unbiased evaluator, he thinks the Ocean View team from Huntington Beach representing the West in the 2011 Little League World Series has the trifecta.
Ocean View will play its first game Friday at noon PDT against Cumberland, R.I., the representative from New England, in Williamsport, Pa.
Jeff Pratto is the manager and his son, Nick, is one of the stars, a pitcher, catcher, first baseman and producer of the giant triple that helped propel Ocean View over the Northern California representative, Red Bluff, in the game that sent Ocean View to the world series.
Hagen Danner, who can throw consistently over 70 mph, Braydon Salzman and Trevor Windisch are the pitching stars.
The experience comes from Danner and Pratto, who played for Ocean View a year ago when the team lost the West regional final to Waipio of Hawaii.
Danner struck out 14 and threw a complete game in the win over Red Bluff and Weldon, who coaches Danner, Pratto and outfielder Anthony Martinez on a club team, said Ocean View could have an advantage just having kids who have played in Southern California all year.
"It's such a plus having the depth of competition this team has faced all year," Weldon said. "Day in, day out, it's really a bit of an advantage. Kids like Pratto and Danner have already been identified by Team USA baseball. That said, you just never know what will happen."
Ocean View's first opponent, Cumberland, is the first New England champion from Rhode Island since 2004. Cumberland won its way to Williamsport by beating Andover (Mass.) National, 13-7. In that game 11 of Cumberland's runs came from five home runs, including two from catcher Ryan McCormick. One was a grand slam.
In contrast, Ocean View won its championship game, 2-1, over Northern California's Red Bluff. Danner struck out 13 of the final 15 batters he faced after giving up an unearned run in the first, and he didn't issue a walk.
Afterward, Danner said, "I feel good. I think we're going to go a long way."
Williamsport will also be the end of Jeff Pratto's Little League managing career. "Wherever we go after this, this is it for me," he said.
He wants to let son Nick make his own way in baseball and to become just a dad. "In high school," he said, "they don't want you around anymore. You've got to let them go."
But Pratto hopes there will be another 10 days or so of coaching.
And he hopes Danner has the right idea. Going a long way.