ALISO VIEJO — In the middle of an early pitching change, the Newport Beach National Little League 9- and 10-year-old All-Stars were already down four runs Thursday night.
The team moms in the stands got a little restless, or were at least searching for things to talk about.
“LeBron James is going to the Miami Heat,” one of them said after glancing at her phone.
Newport Beach is also feeling the heat in the District 55 All-Star tournament after suffering its first loss, falling to Lake Forest, 9-5, in Thursday’s semifinal game at Woodfield Park.
The locals have an elimination game at 6 tonight, back at Woodfield against Rancho Niguel. They’ll have to win tonight and then come back to beat Lake Forest on Sunday and Monday to take the district title, something Newport Beach National Manager Greg Shockey said a Newport Beach Little League team has never done at any age level.
“I think we can battle back,” Shockey said. “We’ve got to do a better job of putting the ball in play, hard, when we’re up in the count. We missed a lot of pitches today. We had a six-day layoff and we came in a little sluggish, but [Lake Forest] had a six-day layoff, too. There are no excuses. It’s a momentum game with 10-year-olds.”
Lake Forest had all of it early. JT Schwartz had won both of Newport’s previous victories in the tournament last week, as the team outscored Laguna Beach and Laguna Hills by a combined score of 19-1. This time, Lake Forest scored twice in the first inning and twice in the second.
Shockey said Schwartz, going through some tough family circumstances, had been away from the team. His flight landed in Orange County on Thursday afternoon, Shockey said.
“We didn’t have command of the zone early, although I thought JT tried to battle through it,” Shockey said. “I wanted to give him a shot to battle through it, because I knew we could play with them.”
Newport Beach brought in three relievers, Cole Dandeneau, Freddy Bloom and finally Matt Thompson. But Lake Forest kept scoring and opened up a 9-0 lead in the sixth, and Newport kept getting frustrated. Newport Beach National and Lake Forest each had eight hits, but Newport left nine runners on base. In four of the first five innings, Newport left a runner on third base.
Down to its last out, Newport Beach did mount a two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth.
Dandeneau’s grounder to third was booted, allowing Max Foxcraft to score. Mikey Ruiz (two for two with a nice catch in left field) then scored on Dylan Shockey’s infield single, and it was 9-2. After Schwartz walked, the cleanup hitter, catcher Jack Genova, did just that.
Genova’s three-run double to the wall in center brought Newport Beach within four runs, but it couldn’t get closer. But at least Newport Beach had some momentum headed into tonight’s game.
“Yeah, it kind of was [important],” Genova said. “It gave us a little bit of excitement going into the next game, energy, momentum.
“We didn’t really play that great. We needed to play our A-game and we brought like an A-minus.”
Bloom will start for Newport Beach tonight. The locals might need a King James-type performance to keep their season alive.
“They’re a gritty group,” Greg Shockey said. “They’ll battle for us. They’re a scrappy bunch. I don’t think they’ve decided they’re done playing.”