Three impressive wins has catapulted the Laguna Beach Little League 9-year-old All-Star tournament team into the driver's seat of the District 55 All-Star Tournament.
Laguna took a spot in Saturday's championship game by rallying from an eight-run deficit Tuesday to roll past Newport Beach National, 26-16, at Woodfield Park in Aliso Viejo.
"Our kids were not at their best but showed real heart in coming back from an early eight-run deficit," Laguna Manager Taylor Pillsbury said.
Inconsistent pitching and errors by a usually reliable defense led to Laguna Beach facing a 12-4 deficit after two innings. Laguna bats came alive in the bottom of the third and the locals produced eight runs behind run-scoring doubles by James Laughlin, Aiden Kidd and Jett Rocha.
Newport Beach came back to take a one-run lead in the top of the fifth, although it was short-lived as Laguna responded with an 11-run outburst in the bottom of the inning to secure a mercy-rule win.
In the final inning, Blake Pivaroff hit his third home run of tournament and Charlie Pillsbury knocked in four runs on two doubles.
In its first three games, Laguna, the lone unbeaten team in the double-elimination tournament, has scored 58 runs.
Laguna stormed out of the gate in its tournament opener Saturday and routed Northwood, 22-10. The locals returned Sunday to post a 10-2 win over perennial tournament favorite Aliso Viejo. Both games were played at Woodfield Park.
In Saturday's win over Northwood, a prolific Laguna offense saw Pivaroff go four for five with a home run and pair of doubles, Kidd three for five with a triple, Charlie Pillsbury four for four, Lance Detwiler three for five with an inside-the-park home run, Jared Angus three for four and Trey Lockhart and Jackson Yelland both went two for two.
Angus — who started on the mound — and relief work by Rocha, Pivaroff and Pillsbury, held Northwood in check.
Pivaroff also was on target in Sunday's win over Aliso Viejo. He threw the first five innings and allowed four hits with seven strikeouts. He was backed by a defense that saw Rocha and Christian Holm make key plays at third base and in center field, respectively.
Pivaroff also had a big hand in the offensive output, going three for four that included a two-run home run in a five-run fifth inning. His blast followed a key three-run double by Rocha, who recorded his third hit of the game.
Pivaroff reached his maximum allotted 75 pitches in the top of the sixth and exited the game, but Kidd, a southpaw, forced three quick outs to wrap up the victory.
Taylor Pillsbury said he found the win over Aliso Viejo "particularly gratifying."
"To put things in perspective, the 10-year-old All-Star team I coached in 2003 lost to Aliso (Viejo), 24-1," he said. "When we questioned the opposing coaches about their kids stealing home with a 20-run lead, they replied that their players 'don't know how to hold back'.
"In 2009, the 11-year-old Laguna Beach All-Star team lost to Aliso Viejo, 28-3."
The championship game is at 4 p.m. Saturday at Woodfield Park. Laguna will face the winner of Friday's elimination game between Newport Beach National and Aliso Viejo in the final. A loss Saturday by Laguna would force a second and deciding game at noon Sunday.
The Laguna Beach 9-year-old All-Star tournament team is: Jared Angus, Dylan Brashier, Lance Detweiler, Christian Holm, Aidan Kidd, Trey Lockhart, James Loughlin, Charlie Pillsbury, Blake Pivaroff, Jett Rocha, Nolan Smith, Jackson Yelland and alternates Tanner Mauro, Caden Capobianco and Brooks Hogenauer.
Four other Laguna Beach Little League All-Star teams — Little League (12-year-old), 10/11, 9/10 and Junior — begin District 55 All-Star Tournament play Saturday. Their rosters are:
Little League (12-year-old) All-Star Team
(opening game: vs. Lake Forest, 1 p.m. Saturday, Hicks Canyon Park, Irvine)
Manager: Steve Dixon
10/11-year-old All-Star Team
(opening game: vs. Aliso Viejo, 9 a.m., Lincoln Elementary School, Corona del Mar)
Manager: Eric Wills
9/10-year-old All Star Team
(opening game: vs. Lake Forest, 7 p.m. Saturday, Woodfield Park, Aliso Viejo)
Manager: Mike Morgan
Junior All-Star Team
(opening game: vs. Laguna Hills, 9 a.m. Saturday, La Paz Field, Laguna Niguel)
Manager: Beau Hutson