Little League: Earthpack cruises to repeat title

CORONA DEL MAR — If all one saw of the Earthpack baseball team was Saturday's Newport Beach Little League majors division championship game, they likely would have concluded that Manager Jeff Fisher's squad was an irresistible force.

But Earthpack's impressively efficient 7-2 victory over Dick's Sporting Goods notwithstanding, the up-down exercises Fisher incorporated into Earthpack's conditioning were a fitting metaphor for a 15-7 campaign that just happened to finish on the best possible note.

"My son, Luke missed half the season with Little League elbow and one of my best hitters, Gabe Sanchez, broke his thumb and never came back, because it didn't heal properly," said Fisher, who also guided last year's majors division champions.

There was very little adversity to be seen for Earthpack in the final, as starting pitcher Luc Stuka had a no-hitter and a 7-0 lead through 4 2/3 innings at Lincoln Elementary.

Kieran Sidebotham's line single to center field broke up the no-no and sparked a two-run rally extended when Drake Mossman reached on a third-strike wild pitch that could have been the third out. After a walk loaded the bases, Colin Miehle fisted an opposite-field single just inside first base that drove in two runs.

But Stuka, who did not allow a ball hit out of the infield and had faced the minimum until Sidebotham's single, induced a groundout to end the threat. Stuka finished with five strikeouts and three walks.

Ironically, Miehle's two runs batted in were double the total produced by Earthpack hitters, as the winners fortified a rather modest four-hit attack with some baserunning bravado.

With Fisher barking commands from the third-base coaching box, combined with the type of aggressive awareness that comes from a season worth of quality coaching, Earthpack runners put enough pressure on the Dick's Sporting Goods defense to force some leakage.

Dick's committed an error in the first inning that led to one unearned run and a pair of errors helped create three unearned runs in the third.

Earthpack scored three in the first and four in the third, but didn't record an RBI until its final run.

Braiden Hook opened the game with a walk and Nico Urban's subsequent single to center got past the outfielder for an error that allowed Hook to score and Urban to reach second. After Urban stole third, Stuka walked and Stuka then got in a rundown allowing Urban to steal home. Stuka went to second on a wild pitch and reached third on a passed ball. Finally, he stole home on the catcher's return throw to the pitcher to cap a rally that would be all the designated home team would need.

Hook opened the third with a hit and Urban was hit by a pitch to spark another rally. Stuka dropped a bunt single down the third-base line and the pitcher threw wildly to third base in an ill-advised attempt to get the lead runner. When the ball skipped into foul territory, Hook scored and runners were left on second and third.

A wild pitch scored the fifth run and after a fielder's choice put runners on second and third, an errant throw to the plate on a ground ball to the second baseman made it 6-0. Dylan Murray followed with a grounder back to the pitcher, who threw to first for the second out, while the seventh run scored, giving Murray his team's lone RBI.

Matt Wilkes joined Hook, Urban and Stuka as Earthpack batters with singles, while Hook, Urban and Stuka each scored twice for the winners.

Hook also contributed back-to-back defensive gems playing second base in the second inning. First, he lunged to stab a sinking line drive for the first out. Hook also managed to knock down a hard-hit grounder off the bat of the next hitter. He scrambled to track the ball down a few feet from him, then threw in time to first base to record the second out.

Dick's starter Johnny King allowed three hits and struck out five in three innings, while Mossman retired the final six he faced after allowing a single to the first batter he pitched to after taking over in the fourth inning.

Tommy Vanis got the final three outs in relief for Earthpack, which Fisher said becomes the first team to win back-to-back majors division titles in Newport Beach Little League history.

"I called it, as soon as I left the draft room," Fisher said of his squad's repeat title. "When I picked every one of those guys, I knew they would all give us something special."

Luke Fisher won the division's Sportsmanship Award, voted upon by league coaches.

Additional contributors for the winners were Connor McGuire, Mathew Schmidt, Stephen Jensen and Jaylen Andrews.

Mike Urban and Rich Vanis were assistant coaches for Earthpack.

Dick's Sporting Goods received contributions all season from Ryan Chambliss, Cade Overfelt, David Adelsberg, Ben Ledermann, Alexander Johnson, Stephen McMillen, Jaden Glenn and Richard Eusey.

Dick's was managed by Brent Overfelt, with the assistance of coaches Rick Eusey and Eric Sidebotham.

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