By Ray Hamill — The District 26 Junior All-Star Tournament returned with a bang this year.
Competing at Mel Berti Field in Newburg Park, Fortuna, the six-day, 10-game tournament featured six local associations and was a big success.
Particularly so for the McKinleyville players, who impressed on the way to a four-game tourney sweep and another District crown, including a 10-0 win over Southern Humboldt in the championship.
“I don’t think there’s any secret to that success,” Juniors head coach Tim Matson said. “I think it’s just good parent support and coaching and the kids’ will to play.
“We’ve got a lot of volunteer coaches and parents that come out to support the kids.”
The McKinleyville All-Stars defeated Redwood Empire, Klamath Trinity and Southern Humboldt on their march to the championship round, and they decisively closed out a big week with a second win over SoHum on Thursday to secure the District title.
The Southern Humboldt All-Stars also had a memorable and historic week, as they became the first-ever team from their association to reach the championship game at a District 26 tournament.
Both teams had multiple standouts at the tournament, and it took a complete team performance to secure the championship.
“It took a whole team to win,” Matson said. “Everybody put in a huge effort through everything, and it took the whole team to win.”
The McKinleyville pitching was particularly impressive and deep, with 10 of the players on the roster able to throw effectively.
They also enjoyed some consistent offense with different players stepping up each game.
Southern Humboldt, meanwhile, won two of their four games in tournament play, including a one-run win over Arcata in their opener and an historic 4-2 win over Redwood Empire in an elimination showdown on Wednesday night that sent them on to their first championship showdown.
And it was the team defense that paved the way for that success.
“Overall, I am extremely satisfied with how the team played,” Mulder said. “Our defense was on fire and I have a feeling this team will accomplish great things in the future. We have a really young group of athletes who are competing above their age level.”
Like with McKinleyville, several players stood out for SoHum, including Mason Bell, who was outstanding on the hill and threw 13 innings at the tournament.
He surrendered just two runs on five hits in seven innings and struck out seven in Wednesday’s exciting elimination-game victory.
The scrappy Tyson Mulder also had a big week, setting the tone behind the plate and coming up with several key hits to lead the offense.
Defensively, Kieran Lambert locked down first base with 22 putouts over the four games, while Bodhi Howes impressed in the outfield and Connell Murphy provided a steady glove at third base.
The Southern Humboldt All-Stars also got valuable contributions from Sheyne Casey, Kael Puno, Cody Wheeler, Andre Keller, Brody Fowler, Marcel Florens and Cohen Cardoza, with assistant coaches Tony Casey and Joaquin Courtemanche also playing a key role.
The Mack All-Stars got big contributions from Bode Reininger, Jake Brunner, Braylon Sotelo, Tate Saso, Cody Wilson, Jacob Baker, Connor Tateman, Maccoy Rickson, Hacher Matson, Lincoln Hungerford, Levi Coehlo and Becker Rine, with coaches Kirby Reininger and Conrad Coelho also playing a key role.
The Mack players will now turn their attention to next week’s Section tournament in Anderson, which gets under way on Thursday.
“We’ll see how that goes,” Tim Matson said. “The No. 1 thing to be successful is to beat the heat, and everybody has to come to play and play like they’ve been playing.”
The players have certainly shown the right attitude so far this season.
“The kids have a lot of drive,” the coach said. “They’re eager to learn.”
The Southern Humboldt players are also hoping to see their District champs continue their impressive run at the next stage.
“On behalf of Southern Humboldt, we would like to wish McKinleyville luck in their next round of all-stars,” Jessika Mulder said.