Time for Texas: Orchard Mesa Major boys headed to Waco
The Orchard Mesa Little League Major boys have been waiting two years for this weekend.
After winning state baseball championships in the 9-10 and 10-11 divisions the past two summers, Orchard Mesa won the Major boys Colorado state title last weekend at Summit Little League.
That win earned Orchard Mesa a spot in the Southwestern Regional Tournament in Waco, Texas, which begins today.
Orchard Mesa plays Tulsa American Little League at 9 this morning.
“This is our third year together, and they understand each other,” Orchard Mesa coach Gene Garcia said. “At this point, we are representing our whole state.”
The winner of the Southwestern Regional advances to the Little League World Series from Aug. 20-29 in Williamsport, Pa.
Orchard Mesa has to get out of the Southwestern Regional before it can start thinking about Williamsport.
The Southwestern Regional is traditionally one of the toughest in Little League baseball.
This year’s field is made up of Orchard Mesa, Pearland White Little League (Texas East), Eagle Pass American Little League (Texas West), Tulsa (Okla.) American Little League, Altamont Little League of Albuquerque, N.M., Lincoln Parish Little League of Ruston, La., Arkadelphia (Ark.) Little League and Ocean Springs (Miss.) Little League.
“They’ve known their goal was Texas all along,” Garcia said. “The kids love this game, and this is a good thing for Orchard Mesa.”
Garcia said he and manager Pete Steves have done their homework to help prepare for the tournament.
Garcia said they spent time talking to Tony Taylor, who was the manager of a Grand Mesa Little League team that went to Waco in 2008.
“That was probably one of the best teams to ever go down there,” Garcia said. “Tony spent about 45 minutes talking to us, and telling us how important it was to realize how much more strict the game is going to be there.”
Taylor’s Grand Mesa team cruised into the Southwestern Regional, with few challenges in the district and state tournaments that year.
Orchard Mesa didn’t have it as easy, needing to win back-to-back games against Academy Little League in the state tournament.
Garcia said the loss to Academy was a motivating thing for the team.
“Everyone there is just as good as we are,” Garcia said. “So that loss to Academy was a good thing, because it helped us understand how it is to lose.”
Orchard Mesa is led by its starting pitching of Trey Garcia and Andrew Martinez. In three years of Little League together, Garcia and Martinez are a combined 23-1 as starters.
“They are going to throw strikes and give us a good chance to win,” Garcia said. “But all of our kids know they’ll get their chance to shine, and when they are called upon, they step up and do it.”
If Orchard Mesa can win at least two of its three games of pool play, it will advance to Tuesday’s semifinal game, which will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Orchard Mesa won’t be the only team competing this weekend. The Monument 9-10-year-old boys won the Colorado state championship and are heading to the Cotton Classic in Blytheville, Ark.
Little League doesn’t officially sponsor regional tournaments until the Majors level, so the Cotton Classic, an invitational tournament, is a good opportunity for Monument to see how it stacks up.
“This will give them a feel for what a regional will feel like,” Monument coach Sean Kreidler said. “They are thrilled, you could see a little more pep in their step all week.”
The Cotton Classic features teams from the Little League Southwest and Central regions.
“We aren’t guaranteed this chance ever again,” Kreidler said. “We are excited to play a few more baseball games.”