For the second-straight week, Santa Clara Westside’s 11-12-year-old All Stars have won three in a row. After winning District 44 two weeks ago with wins on consecutive days—Thursday, Friday and Saturday—Westside has now doubled down to begin the Section-5 tournament. With yet another three wins last week—also on Thursday, Friday and Saturday—their overall win streak now stands at six. This feisty bunch of youngsters has put themselves on the verge of becoming Section-5 Champions. Starting Wednesday, Westside will have two chances to advance to the Northern California tournament.
Given Westside’s success in recent seasons, it won’t come as a huge surprise if this group of youngsters continues on the path towards The Little League World Series. According to Westside Vice President Al Bonvicino, the majority of this current 11-12-year-old roster won the 9-10-year-old Northern California Championship back in 2015. At that age level, the NorCal tournament is the final tournament of the season. In other words, most of these players have already delivered in similar high-stakes games. The butterflies one might expect from middle school-age athletes seem to be nonexistent for this Westside bunch. Their poise and maturity might just have them destined for even more success here in 2017.
While there is certainly a long ways to go, it appears as if the key ingredient of luck is currently on Westside’s side. To go along with their immense all-around talent, Westside has gotten the necessary breaks required to sustain a long playoff run.
During Thursday’s Section-5 opener, Westside found themselves down 9-4 with just three outs remaining. After chipping away to make the score 9-6, it looked like Westside was about to be defeated. With two on and two out, second baseman Jake Ellegood hit a towering pop-up into center field. Off the crack of the bat it seemed like it would be an easy out to end the game. Fortunately for Westside, the ball got caught up in the sun and eventually fell to the ground as the center fielder’s frantic dive was unsuccessful. Both runners crossed home plate with Ellegood ending up at second base. The following batter Mitchell Gonzalez scorched a line-drive double into right-center field, knocking home Ellegood to tie the game.
“It was intense,” commented Ellegood after the eventual 10-9 victory in seven innings. “All of us were going crazy in the dugout.”
“It was two balls and one strike and [their pitcher] threw me an outside fastball so I drove it the other way,” recalled Gonzalez on his sixth-inning at-bat. An at-bat that moments earlier he wasn’t even sure he would get. “[Jake’s pop up] I was like, ‘Drop! Drop! Drop! Drop!’ and then it dropped and I was so happy!”
The following half inning was yet another extremely fortunate turn of events for Westside. With Jordan Montez now on the mound, Santa Clara found themselves quickly in a jam with the bases loaded and nobody out. Once again, Westside got exactly the break they needed. A line-drive shot right back up the middle was snagged out of the air by Montez. As he was checking the lead runner, Montez heard his shortstop Jarren Advincula yelling as loud as he could. Montez proceeded to calmly throw to second base to double up the runner who was caught napping off the bag. In the immediate aftermath of the double play, Montez and Advincula each shared emphatic celebratory screams and thigh-high fist pumps. The following batter would hit a measly popup and just like that, Westside was out of the jam without allowing a run.
Westside would go on to win in the bottom of the seventh on a walk-off single by Jessie Gutierrez. The eruption of wild cheers from Westside fans was quite a sight to behold.
“I can’t express enough how much I love watching our guys swing,” noted Head Coach Jeremy Advincula. “To be down five runs in the last inning, are you kidding me? We’re gonna come back and tie it up? Hats off to our guys, they showed a lot of heart.”
On Friday, Westside cruised to a 10-4 victory over Watsonville. Ryan Prettol held Watsonville batters to just a single run in three innings on the mound. Meanwhile Westside’s offense used the ground attack to build an 8-1 lead. Watsonville would eventually cut the lead to 8-4, but Eric Honer and Ezekiel Chavez would each hit home runs in the top of the sixth for additional cushion.
Friday night’s late power surge would appear to carry over into Saturday with Ellegood continuing his impressive hitting. After Advincula worked an eight-pitch leadoff walk to open the game, Ellegood followed up by crushing an outside fastball for an opposite field, two-run homer.
“Jake is seeing the ball like a watermelon,” chuckled coach Advincula. “He’s so hot right now.”
During their very next at-bats, yet another power surge extended Westside’s lead. This time the home run came courtesy of Thursday’s walk-off hero. With two outs and nobody on Advincula reached on an infield single and Ellegood took a pitch to his back side. That set the table for Gutierrez, who then aunched a first-pitch curveball over the fence in center field.
“I was just looking to try and hit the ball hard,” chimed Gutierrez on his approach. “It was a curveball and it hung.”
The home run was the beginning of a three-hit day for Gutierrez, all three of which were balls smoked into center field.
“Jessie makes the coach look like a genius,” added coach Advincula, who recently dropped Gutierrez from the second to third spot in the lineup in order to get the hot-hitting Ellegood some more at-bats in the two hole. “He brings something special every time he steps into the box. It’s so fun to see him perform at this level because he works hard. He goes above and beyond.”
The five-run lead was more than enough for ace pitcher Jayce Dobie who only needed 53 pitches to get through four shutout innings.
“He was dominant today. Whenever you have a guy like that with control, it makes my job a lot easier,” replied coach Advincula on his starting pitcher. “He was able to pick apart hitters and these are hitters than ran through their districts. But I have full confidence in Jayce. For me it’s like a video game every time he steps on the mound. I can call pretty much whatever I want and he’s going to put it there.”
The defensive gem of the day for Westside came in the bottom of the first. With one out and a runner on third, Ezekiel Chavez camped under a medium fly ball into center field. As soon as Chavez made the catch, the Willow Glen runner took off from third to try and score. Chavez’s throw home was right on the money and catcher Nate Escalada applied the tag to end the inning.
“I was hoping the runner was gonna be going,” admitted Advincula. “Personally I would not have sent him if I were the opposing coach. That was a huge momentum switch. When you score, you want to put up a zero [the next half inning] and if they score one there, maybe they still think they are in the game, so that was a huge play by Ezekiel.”
Instead of a 2-1 score going into the second, Westside kept the momentum in their dugout, allowing Gutierrez to extend the lead to 5-0. Ellegood put it best, calling Chavez’s run-saving throw a “game-changing play.”
A two-run homer by Logan Vieira in the sixth inning would cap off the scoring on Saturday. Chavez meanwhile wasn’t done using his arm as he put the final touches on the 7-0 shutout victory with two solid innings on the mound.