Power pitching vs. power hitting - Lakeside plays for title

Hart takes the ball in West Region finale
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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While it was a little dicey for the all-stars from Lakeside Little League in their semifinal win over Arizona Friday night, the much-anticipated matchup for Western Region supremacy and a trip to the Little League World Series is on for Sunday night in San Bernardino. Lakeside has dominated from the mound in winning its five games at Al Houghton Stadium, while the team from Southern California is also unbeaten in the Western Region tourney, with its biggest success coming in the batter’s box. When the youngsters from Granite Bay and Loomis meet the 12-year-olds from Chula Vista’s Park View Little League it will be a classic battle between great pitching and great hitting. Park View has belted 34 home runs in its five games in San Bernardino, and scored 87 runs, but none of that firepower has come against a pitcher the likes of Lakeside’s Mitch Hart. “The So Cal team has seen sub-par pitching the whole tournament,” said Lakeside manager Bill Rockefeller. “If Mitch has his stuff we will live on their hands the whole game and use the curve as an out pitch.” Hart came on in relief in Friday’s 9-8 win over Arizona, and blew away three hitters with an overpowering heater. “Last night Mitch was 75 plus with his fastball,” Rockefeller said. “I don’t think they are that quality of hitting team, but Mitch can never let up. Their offense is solid one through 12 with hitting a batting practice fastball. We will see tomorrow how they handle Mitch.” In addition to his ability to deliver the strike out when he needs it, Hart is blessed to have an outstanding defensive group behind him. Lakeside is strong up the middle with catcher Matt McCord, shortstop Nick Frank, second baseman Brett Munkdale and centerfielder Zach Hall, and its corner outfielders, Billy Rockefeller and Grant Powers are stellar defenders. With Dylan Keeney and Connor Briare at the corner infield spots, this squad is tough when teams put the ball in play. Reserves Matt Berry, Myles Slattery and Matt Steindorf are all solid with the leather as well. With the offensive firepower of the team from Southern California receiving so much attention, the local buzz in and around San Bernardino puts the Lakeside all-stars firmly in the underdog role in this matchup. “I like it better that way,” Rockefeller said. “It gives the boys something to prove and they know it.” While Hart’s pitching and Park View’s offense get the focus of attention, the opposite matchups may be what ultimately decides this contest. The Southern California champions will give the ball to 6-foot-2, 210-pound Luke Ramirez, who has pitched well in the tournament. Rockefeller likes his team’s chances against the big right-hander, and feels they come into this game well tested and underrated on the offensive side. “We have seen better pitching than So Cal,” Rockefeller said. “He (Ramirez) throws hard but tires after about the third inning. (He comes) straight over the top with a fastball and his curve is not bad either. We need to score six to seven runs to beat this team.” This Lakeside team is right where their coach thought they had the chance to be, even two months ago when they gathered for their first practice. Now, they know that they are one win away from the ultimate Little League dream – a trip to Williamsport, Penn., and against a talented opponent, this one will take their best effort. “So Cal is a very well-coached team and really knows how to make a pitcher pay for any mistakes,” Rockefeller said. “We need to limit those mistakes.” Fortunately for Lakeside, this is a team that has played extremely well each time it has had its backs to the wall, and Hart has delivered some of his best performances in the biggest games – two brilliant wins over Woodcreek in the District 54 tournament and a 15-strikeout effort in a must-win game against unbeaten San Ramon at the Northern California tournament in Danville. The excitement is building for what should be a classic showdown. Game time in San Bernardino is 5 p.m. Sunday and the contest airs live on ESPN2. Many of those who are unable to make the trip down south are gathering at the Granite Bay Golf Club (located at 9600 Golf Club Drive in Granite Bay; cross streets are East Roseville Parkway & Barton Road) to enjoy the game together on the big screen. The winner of this one will be crowned Western Region champion and will be immediately on its way to Williamsport for next week’s Little League World Series.