McKinleyville bats come alive in District championship

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Tate Saso delivers a pitch during Thursday’s game.

By Ray Hamill — The McKinleyville 12-year-old Little League All-Stars answered the call in thrilling fashion this week.

After dropping their opening game at the District 26 Tournament in Cutten, they had to battle back through the elimination bracket and win five straight games on the way to being crowned champions.

On Thursday night, they closed out in style with a big 11-3 win over Redwood Empire in the decider, capping an exciting week of action at the tournament.

“Our kids really battled in this tournament,” McKinleyville manager Patrick Green said. “It was very challenging to go in the elimination bracket right away. We had to go six days in a row to get it done. I’m proud of their courage.”

Redwood Empire and McKinleyville had split two low-scoring games in tournament play before Thursday’s rubber game between them, and this time around the Mack bats came to play.

The McKinleyville All-Stars scored runs in four of the six innings.

And that was more than enough offense for outstanding pitcher Tate Saso and this defense.

Saso was in command all night and seemingly grew stronger as the game went on, with only two of the final nine batters he faced getting on base, and one of them did so on a defensive error.

“The bats came alive and we’ve been waiting to see that,” Green said. “And when you have pitching like Tate Saso behind that, that makes it very challenging for a team to come back.”

Saso got plenty of help from his defense, which has been very impressive all week, most notably from center fielder Carson Hicks.

The youngster made the play of the game and arguably the play of the tournament with a spectacular diving catch in the bottom of the first to end the inning and save a pair of runs from scoring.

Hicks’ big grab came just moments after the Mack defense turned a double play to help set the early tone.

The McKinleyville offense got going early, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the first to give their pitcher an immediate cushion and adding a third to lead 3-0 midway through the third inning.

But the Redwood Empire players didn’t back down from the challenge and quickly responded with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning to pull even.

The Mack bats, however, were just getting warmed up and they quickly added three more runs in the fourth and then took command with five more in the fifth.

Lincoln Hungerford had a big day at the plate and finished with three hits and scored a pair of runs, while the talented Saso helped his own cause with a couple of hits, a bases-loaded walk, two RBIs and a run.

Talon Turner also had a big bases-clearing double, while Cabella Carper and Jake Brunner each had a pair of hits, including a double by Carper, who also was outstanding once again behind the plate.

Brunner’s big day at the plate came just one day after he dominated on the mound in a 2-0 shutout win over Redwood Empire to force Thursday’s game.

“I was very happy with our pitching this week,” Green said. “Jake pitched great yesterday, keeping them off balance, and we were able to win a low-scoring game.”

The RELL All-Stars went down battling and enjoyed an impressive week despite coming up just short.

Riley Schneider and Brayden Bermers each had a pair of hits in Thursday’s loss, while Bryson Burns, Kyle Giacone, Jake Vasquez and Jackson Sharp each also had a hit.

Bermers got the start on the mound and threw 3.1 solid innings, with Vasquez and Sharp each impressing in relief.

The RELL All-Stars won the admiration of the Mack coaches.

“They were well-coached and a great group of kids,” Green said. “They had an impressive run last year and we knew they were going to be a very tough opponent.”

Green added that playing a team like that in three tough games this week will help prepare McKinleyville for the upcoming Area tournament.

And thanks to their performances over the past six days, the Mack All-Stars will carry plenty of momentum into the next tournament.

“These kids have courage,” Green said. “And they’re fun and they work hard and they really jell with each other. I think they’ve got guts.”

Bowdy Hicks, Maccoy Rickson, Becker Rine, Colton Adams, Hacher Matson, Cooper Haloff and Blake Carper round out a talented Mack team headed to the Area tournament.

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