NHBA in zone of its own

For inspiration, Robert Stefano knows where to find it. When you manage 29 games, as he has since Memorial Day, you need to find ways to fire up yourself and your team.

All Stefano has to do is look at the amount of support one of his players gets and the kid cannot even play.

Stefano said Caleb Ricketts broke his leg in practice before he could play for the Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. 11-and-under Bronco All-Star team in a Pony Region tournament a couple of weeks ago.

Ricketts still comes to the games, along with his crutches, and sits in the dugout. He puts on his uniform, one leg at a time. The hardest is the left pant leg that he pulls over his cast.

His parents, Dave and Jodie, still show up to the games. His grandparents, Dan and Pat, still drive all the way from Simi Valley to support Ricketts and his team wherever the latest tournament is that week.

The family has traveled to seven tournaments and all the mileage has been worth it. The road to the next tournament is one Newport Harbor has never traveled until now.

Newport Harbor didn't win the Southern California Super Region title on Monday, losing to Irvine, 16-1, in Whittier.

Newport Harbor still made history.

Newport Harbor advanced to the West Zone tournament for the first time in the organization's history. The top two teams at the Super Region tournament clinched berths into the West Zone tournament, the precursor to the Pony Bronco World Series.

"These boys have exceeded so many expectations and I have such a fondness for all of the families on the team," said Stefano, whose team is 23-6 during All-Star play.

"It's truly heroic to see Caleb's parents and grandparents at every darn game. It inspires me and the kids to do their best."

Stefano looks to lead Newport Harbor to the top of the West Zone double-elimination tournament at Creekside Park in Walnut. Newport Harbor opens Thursday against Charter Oak at 5 p.m.

In the past two tournaments, Super Region and Region, Newport Harbor placed second to the same team from Irvine. Only one of the eight teams in the West Zone tournament gets to move on to the Pony Bronco World Series, July 26-29 in Chesterfield, Va.

"We would like to meet Irvine again for the championship," said Stefano, whose team has faced Irvine five times in tournament play, going 3-2.

The last two games have gone Irvine's way.

After losing to Irvine, Newport Harbor bounced back on Tuesday in an elimination game at the Super Region tournament. Newport Harbor beat East Long Beach, 13-8, earning an entry into the West Zone tournament.

"We just told the kids to go out and try to have fun and forget about what happened the day before," said Stefano, whose coaching staff includes Sam Olmstead and Lamar Jefferson. "It doesn't matter if we're playing East Long Beach or someone else, because at the end of the day, you want to have a fun time."

Newport Harbor has enjoyed a lot of success during its run.

The team first claimed the District title, automatically qualifying it past Section and into Region. At the Region and Super Region tournaments, Newport Harbor played for titles each time.

The team boasts standout pitchers in Johnny Olmstead and Hayden Schott. The hitters on the team are A.J. Stefano, Nolan Dunn, Olmstead, Schott and Shawn Nielsen.

Newport Harbor also features Ethan Barnes, Alex Carpenter, Dayne Chalmers, Peyton Jefferson, Finn Springston and Clay Liolios.

Liolios stepped in at catcher when Ricketts broke his leg.

"He's filled his role really well, and he's the youngest kid on the team," said Robert Stefano, adding that Liolios turned 11 on Tuesday.

Ricketts isn't leading off for the team, but he and his family are leading the charge during a historic postseason for Newport Harbor.


Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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