School has started, but summer lives on at least another week for the Chandler National Little League All-Stars.
“We get out of school to play baseball, to do something we love,’’ said Kyle Pechloff, one of the team’s top hitters and the winning pitcher in the state title game. “It’s not something a lot of people get to do.”
The Chandler National players will try to extend their summer through late August at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. They hope to follow in the footsteps of the 2003 Chandler National team that went to Williamsport and was nicknamed the “Boys of Summer” in the Valley media.
Chandler National takes the next step at 3:30 p.m. today, opening the Little League West Regional against San Jose Moreland District, the Northern California champion, at Al Houghton Stadium in San Bernardino, Calif.
Each team plays four games in pool play. The top four teams advance to elimination play. The winner goes to Williamsport.
Manager Jeff Parrish stressed this is about more than winning baseball games.
“We’re making memories here,” he said.
The players and coaches will stay together in a barracks-like setting. They had similar accommodations for the state tournament.
“For a lot of our kids this is like going to camp for the first time,’’ Parrish said. “It’s quite a bonding experience.’’
Perhaps one of the best memories for these youngsters came after a game everyone wanted to forget. After falling to Gilbert National East 11-1 in the state tournament in Prescott, the coaches decided to take the boys fishing to take their minds off baseball.
“Some of the boys were quite polished fishermen,’’Parrish said. “Some of the other kids were jumping in the water trying to chase the fish.”
Everyone had a good time. That night Chandler National pounded Douglas 11-1.
“They’re already a superstitious bunch,’’ Parrish said. So the team went fishing before the last two games of the state tournament.
Parrish said the team probably will ditch fishing for a trip to the beach, about an hour’s drive from San Bernardino.
“Some of our kids have never seen the ocean,’’
Parrish said. “You can’t get that close and not go.”
So far that one loss has been the only bump in Chandler National’s road.
Chandler National has outscored its opponents 223-27 in 15 Little League Major tournament games.
“That (loss) may help us in the long run,’’
Parrish said. “We showed we could recover from something like that.”
Pechloff is one of the leaders of the team, Parrish said, along with Seth Fretheim. “He’s a quiet kid who leads by his presence,’’ Parrish said.
Connor Woods, who often catches, keeps the team loose. “He’s good at talking with pitchers, making a joke, calming them down,’’ Parrish said.
The youngest player on the team is Cody Bellinger, whose father is coach Clay Bellinger, who played for the Yankees against the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series.
The most experienced player at this level of competition is Dalton Krum. Krum was on a team that played for a national youth football championship.
Eleven of the 13 Chandler National players have homered in tournament play. Twelve of the players can pitch.
Parrish, the league board and the coaches sought more pitching depth on this squad in part because of a change in Little League rules.
Pitchers are limited to 85 pitches, then rest is mandated based on how many pitches the player threw.
Previously, pitchers were limited by the number of innings they were allowed to throw in a week.
It’s generally felt the pitch count rule forces teams to use more pitchers.
Chandler National has become something of a Little League dynasty, winning four state titles in five seasons.The 2003 team went to the Little League World Series.
But the 12-year-olds on this team have not known that kind of success in 9-10-year-old and 11-year-old all-star competition.
“They never won a state title,’’ Parrish said. “That may make it even more special for them.”
Chandler National roster
Manager: Jeff Parrish
Coaches: Clay Bellinger and Chris McCann
Associate coaches: Karl Krum and Jason Palermo
Little League West Regional
When: Today-Aug. 11
Where: San Bernadino, Calif.
CHANDLER NATIONAL’S SCHEDULE
Friday: vs. Moreland District (San Jose, Calif.), 3:30 p.m.
Saturday: vs. Snow Canyon (Santa Clara, Utah), 9 a.m.
Tuesday: vs. Green Valley (Henderson, Nev.), 8 p.m.
Wednesday: vs. Waipio, Hawaii, 11:45 a.m.
Thursday: Semifinals, 4 and 8 p.m. (top four teams qualify)
Aug. 11: Championship, 6 p.m. on ESPN