By Ray Hamill — There was little to separate the two teams in Thursday’s District 26 12U championship game in Arcata, with the Eel River All-Stars pushing their McKinleyville counterparts all the way in an exciting pitchers’ duel.
When all was said and done, however, it was the McKinleyville All-Stars who secured another championship with a 1-0 win.
But the Eel River players have plenty to feel proud about after another big postseason and some spectacular plays along the way.
The battery of pitcher Teyler Bailey and catcher Mason Long was particularly effective for Eel River in the championship game, combining to frustrate the hard-hitting Mack bats.
Bailey allowed just four hits all night, while Long is one of the best young catchers in the area, along with McKinleyville’s Cabella Carper.
“I feel they’re the best two (Little League) catchers maybe in all of Northern California. They’re like artists back there,” Brandon Long said of Mason and Cabella. “It really changes the whole game when you can’t steal bases and when you know there won’t be any passed balls.”
The loss was the second in tournament play against McKinleyville, although the Eel River head coach felt his team matched up well in both games.
There were several standout moments for the team, including some great catches in center field by Ryker Renner in the championship game and an incredible play by Easton Essig and Mason Long to help seal a 6-5 win over Redwood Empire in an elimination game on Wednesday.
On what some fans described as “the play of the season,” left fielder Essig made an outstanding throw home for Long to tag out what would have been a late tying run at the plate.
“That was one of the best throw and snap tags I’ve ever seen,” the coach said. “And it won us the game.”
Essig also stepped up at third base in Thursday’s decider, as did first baseman Tegan Dalton, with both players helping to contain a dangerous Mack bunt game.
Brandon Long described Essig as his team’s “Swiss Army knife,” for his outstanding play at third base, center field, left field and catcher.
Dalton and Cayden Crawford both also had some key hits in the tournament, as did Mason Long and Jace Robinson.
Carson McGinnis and Miles Sirrine each also pitched well for Eel River.
“Miles threw a gem (in the first game against McKinleyville),” Brandon Long said. “He threw a really good game.”
Carson Lodes and Jarren Boindini also had a big impact with the team this week.
With the loss, the season ends for the Eel River players, who left a great impression on their coaches.
“All the kids on our team are great kids too,” Brandon Long said. “They’re really fun to be around and that makes it fun for us. It was a fun group for sure.”
The head coach also praised the contributions of his assistants, Justin Bondini ad Johnny Creed.