The two teams met two years ago at the 10-year-old State tournament, with the Mack All-Stars claiming a victory on both occasions, although head coach Carlos Avelar and his players are taking nothing for granted this time around.
“They’ve got some big hitters,” Avelar said of Turlock, adding that “you’re not going to find any weak teams at this stage.”
Seven teams will compete for the NorCal state title, with the winning team advancing to the prestigious West Regional tournament in San Bernardino, which will feature all the West Coast state champions.
And after placing second in NorCal as 10-year-olds, the Mack All-Stars will be eager to go one better this time around.
Joe Tanno, who has been on fire for Mack Town this summer, will not get the start on the mound for Saturday’s tournament opener because of his pitch count in Tuesday’s Section championship game.
But Avelar and his assistant coaches have plenty of reliable arms they can start, and the hard-throwing Hunter Carper will likely get the nod against Turlock.
The coaches are also hoping the team’s bats come alive and match the production we’ve seen from the pitching and defense this summer.
“Our pitching and our defense (has impressed),” Avelar said. “But our hitting hasn’t been there. Our hitting is not as good as it should be and not as good as it is.”
With the exception of Tanno, the top half of the order has been quiet the last couple of games, albeit against some top quality pitching.
But players like Carper, Rhythm Green, Bode Reininger and Cody Wilson have shown they are all capable of getting hot at the plate at any moment.
“Hitting is contagious,” Avelar said. “And we need the top of our order to get going.”
The good news is the bottom half of the order has come through the past few games and won’t be lacking in confidence, with players like Ethan Gordon, Lucas Jones, Lincoln Hungerford, Tate Saso, Bryce Gruetzmacher and Bowdy Hicks all coming up with some clutch hits and at-bats at the Section tournament.
In addition to the pitching and defense, another key component of the team’s success has been the play of 11-year-old Jake Brunner behind the plate.
“Our catching has been phenomenal,” Avelar said.
Even more impressive is the fact Brunner didn’t catch for most of the season and was only slotted into the position just before the playoffs in order to catch for Tanno.
“He’s handled Joe well,” Avelar said. “He never caught for Joe before.”
The Mack players won’t lack confidence or experience going into this weekend despite their young age.
After dropping their opening game at the state tournament two years ago, they won five straight before falling in the championship game.
“A lot of different kids came through for us,” Avelar said.
This year, the top two teams from the Regional tourney will advance to the Little League World Series in Williamsport instead of the usual one team, because there will be no international teams involved due to the pandemic.
California and Texas are the only two states to send two teams on to the Regional tournaments.