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Northridge Facing Period of Adjustment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Northridge Little League team suffered its first loss Saturday: three hours, the price of traveling to the Eastern Daylight Time zone for the Little League World Series.

After the team’s 17-7 victory over Hawaii to win the Western Regional championship Friday night, sleep was also a casualty as the players relived the game until the wee hours.

The team had a 5 a.m. wake-up call, but the short night’s sleep merely simmered down the keyed-up but tuckered-out players whose mood, in the words of parent Tim Cunningham, was “quietly excited.”

As it turned out, Northridge needed more than 17 victories and four tournament championships to get to Williamsport.

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It also took three flights in one day. The first left Ontario International Airport at 6 a.m. for Los Angeles International. The next leg took the team to Pittsburgh, and the last landed in Williamsport at 2:15 p.m. PDT.

Northridge faces more obstacles before beginning series play against Brooklyn Center, Minn., Monday at 4 p.m. PDT.

Several Northridge players have battled a virus for a couple of days, including Nathaniel Dunlap, who will be the starting pitcher against Brooklyn Center. And first baseman Matt Cassel is questionable after cutting his hand at the barracks in San Bernardino and requiring seven stitches.

“I’ve been a walking drugstore,” said Debbie Dunlap, Nathaniel’s mother and the team’s scorekeeper.

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But the biggest obstacle will be living down the reputation for unruliness built the past two years by Long Beach, the back-to-back world champion which represented the Western Region the past two years. Players pulled fire alarms, pirated golf carts and generally behaved like Little League rascals.

In addition, Jeff Burroughs, Long Beach coach and a former major league player, blasted officials in Williamsport and in San Bernardino in a book he co-authored titled, “The Little Team That Could.” The book, published this year, chronicles Long Beach’s two championships.

“I told the Northridge team that they conducted themselves first class all the way throughout our tournament,” said Carl Magee, Western Regional director. “I expect they’ll get a clean slate (from Williamsport officials), but we did feel that (Burroughs) took some unnecessary shots (at Little League).”

Burroughs’ primary complaint was that Little League failed to ensure that players from foreign teams were the proper age. A team from the Philippines defeated Long Beach, 15-4, in the 1992 final, but was stripped of its title after an investigation that originated in the Philippines revealed players not only were too old but also lived hundreds of miles outside the team’s boundaries.

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But he also wrote that Little League officials were too rules-conscious about trivial items. Sunflower seeds and chewing gum are banned from the field, for instance. Burroughs didn’t like the fact that coaches had to wear long pants and that players had to keep their shirts tucked in.

Wrote Burroughs: “Behind the scenes, the Little League World Series would prove to be a far different event than the Disney-ish, happy-go-lucky caper projected each year on our television sets.”

Don’t expect a similar tirade from Northridge Manager Larry Baca or coach George Saul.

“I think the whole thing is going to be fantastic,” said Baca, who read Burroughs’ book during the Western Regional. “What matters is whether the kids will be treated well, and I’m sure they will be.”

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Northridge is trying to keep its focus on its first opponent. Brooklyn Center, the Central Region champion, has a standout pitcher--Steve Kruger. The team’s catcher is Manager Larry Wendell’s daughter, Krissy Wendell.

The tournament begins at 7 a.m. PDT Monday when Chinese Taipei plays Glace Bay, Canada. Springfield, Va., will face Middleboro, Mass., and Maracaibo, Venezuela, will face Dhahrain, Saudi Arabia, before Northridge’s game.

Northridge and Brooklyn Center will play under lights that were added to the Williamsport complex in 1992. Opening ceremonies, which follow player physicals today, also will take place under the lights.

Each team will play three games in pool play. The four U.S. teams each play one another as do the four international teams. ESPN will broadcast the 10 a.m. PDT pool-play games each day and ESPN2 will broadcast the 4 p.m. PDT pool-play games.

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After pool play, the top two U.S. teams will play for the national championship Thursday at 1:30 p.m. PDT. The international championship game precedes the national game. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN.

The World Series championship game is Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT and will be televised on ABC.


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