It has been said that there is a first time for everything.
On what was believed to be an historic day for Laguna Beach Little League, that "first," happened twice.
Two of the league's teams, VFW (major) and Crescent Bay Advisors (AAA) captured division championships Sunday at the 2013 Little League District 55 Tournament of Champions.
Laguna Beach VFW laid claim to the major division tournament title while Laguna Beach CBA earned the minor division banner on its own home turf, Riddle Field.
Both district titles (major, minor) are believed to be the first for the league in tournament history, LBLL President Jennifer Sweet said.
"This double championship is so exciting for our league," she said. "The kids did a great job playing hard to the end. I am so proud of them. They have made Laguna Beach Little League history."
VFW powers way to championship
VFW steam rolled its way to Sunday's division final at Chapparosa Park in Laguna Niguel. The team outscored its first three opponents, 35-5, to reach the title game where it was to face the Laguna Niguel Nationals.
In its closest outcome of the tournament, VFW emerged with a 4-3 victory in a final that Manager Tim Loughlin expected to be a "tightly-fought game for the crown."
He was right: VFW scored the title-clinching run in extra innings, getting the decisive run in the bottom of the seventh.
VFW got on the scoreboard first by scoring twice in the second inning. Christian Holm singled sharply to center field and was driven home by James Loughlin who tripled down the third base line. Loughlin later scored on a passed ball with Jaden Rea at the plate, to make it 2-0.
VFW added another run in the third inning. John Phelan had a 10-pitch at-bat that he converted into a walk. Ashton Embury also reached base on a walk and several batters later, Nate Magers drilled a single to right field to score Phelan.
Grady Morgan was impressive on the mound and limited Laguna Niguel to single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. He had to exit the game after 5 2/3 innings due to pitch-count limitations.
Laguna Niguel scored the tying run with two out in the top of the sixth. VFW was unable to score in the bottom of the sixth and the game went to extra innings.
Nolan Smith pitched a scoreless top of the seventh for VFW which received key support in right field from Noah Haymond that turned away a scoring threat by the Nationals.
In the bottom of the seventh, Morgan singled with one out and Magers hit a grounder to second but Morgan was able to beat the throw to second base, giving VFW a pair of base runners. Holm followed with a single to shallow right field and Morgan scored from second to win the game.
Catcher Charlie Pillsbury had one hit and provided what Tim Loughlin said was "seven, stellar innings behind the plate."
"The kids gave 100% effort in every game we played," Loughlin said. "It was great being a part of this team because everyone got along so well and team unity was exceptional. I am sure they will never forget winning Laguna Beach's first title in this great tournament".
VFW stormed into Sunday's title game by defeating the Rancho Niguel Angels, 14-1, in a semifinal game played June 7. Cutter Clawson and Morgan combined to strike out 13 of the 15 Rancho Niguel batters they faced. Both Clawson and Morgan homered to right field and were part of a 16-hit VFW attack.
Smith, Pillsbury, Magers and James Loughlin each had multiple hits. Holm brought in the first VFW run on an RBI double in the opening inning. Embury and Haymond each scored twice, and Phelan reached base three times and stole two bases.
VFW completed an 18-5 season.
VFW, champion of the District 55 Tournament of Champions Major division, is: Nolan Smith, Grady Morgan, Cutter Clawson, Charlie Pillsbury, Christian Holm, Nate Magers, James Loughlin, Jaden Rea, John Phelan, Noah Haymond, Ashton Embury, Cole Fink. Manager: Tim Loughlin. Coaches: Rob Smith, Taylor Pillsbury, Mike Morgan.
Minor Division TOC
Crescent Bay Advisors wins title
The AAA division champions from LBLL staged a wild, sixth-inning rally to stun Aliso Viejo in the semifinals, then closed out the tournament with a convincing, 7-0 victory over Rancho Niguel in the championship game on Sunday.
Host CBA put away the Rancho Niguel Giants at Riddle Field behind key performances from several players.
Booker Frith and Nolan Naess combined to pitch a shutout. Frith threw the first five innings, allowed three hits and struck out seven. Naess tossed the final inning and struck out two without giving up a hit.
"I felt really comfortable and my arm felt warmed up," said Frith, age 10. "This was a big win for us. After the first two games of the tournament, I thought we could go all the way."
Paxton Burzell provided CBA with the big hit of the game in the fourth inning. With his team up, 1-0, and runners on first and second, Burzell homered to right-center field to push the lead to 4-0.
CBA Manager Coby Naess said the home run was the "first ever" for Burzell.
Adam Kerfoot added insurance runs in the sixth inning when he hit a three-run, inside-the-park home run to extend the lead to 7-0. Kerfoot finished three for three, Nolan Naess, Burzell, Kevin McDennon, Jeremy Hayes and Cooper Noriega all went two for three, and Will Compton singled.
Coby Naess said a "flawless defense" was led by catcher Aidan McDennon.
CBA's title run was made possible only when the team roared back on June 7 to pull out a 9-8 semifinal triumph over the Aliso Viejo Tigers.
Hayes pitched four innings and allowed only one run. CBA opened things up with a four-run first inning which included hits by Frith, Naess, Noriega and Hayes. The CBA lead was 5-1 heading into the sixth inning.
In its final at-bat, Aliso Viejo erupted for seven runs to overtake CBA and grab an 8-5 lead. But CBA was far from finished.
Frith and Naess started the bottom of the sixth with consecutive singles. Noriega came up with a clutch double to drive in a run. Following an intentional walk to Hayes, Burzell hit a sacrifice fly to bring in another run to make it an 8-7 game. With two out and runners at second and third, Kerfoot came to bat and singled up the middle. In a close play at the plate, Hayes, who headed for home from second base, slid in and knocked the ball out of the glove of the Aliso Viejo catcher, and scored the winning run.
That four-run finish sent CBA on to Sunday's championship game.
"The team played with a lot of focus in TOC," CBA Manager Coby Naess said. "Our boys peaked at the end of the season. The bats came alive. Everyone in the order contributed. It was real fun seeing all the hard work the boys put in during the season come to fruition at the end.
"The most impressive thing about this team of boys was their positive encouragement and the way they supported each other. The boys cheered for one another and were always there for their teammate. That was great to see develop as the season progressed."
Jeremy Hayes agreed with his manager.
"Everyone played great baseball, but the most important thing, was the way we picked each other up," the 11-year-old explained. "We would always say to each other, 'good job,' or, 'nice try,' things like that.
"We had a great tournament. Aliso Viejo was the only team that gave us a real challenge. They were the team everyone thought would win it. In the end, we came out with a lucky win."
CBA finished its season with an overall record of 20-3-2. The team went 12-2-2 in winning the LBLL regular season AAA division championship, then went 4-1 to claim the title in the division's double-elimination postseason tournament.
CBA closed out its campaign with a 4-0 run that took it to the district winner's circle.
"We have really positive players on our team and we have really good coaches," Adam Kerfoot, 11, said. "I didn't think we would get to the finals, but I'm really happy we did. We were really excited to win the championship. I'm a little sad, too, because the season is over."
CBA, champion of the District 55 Tournament of Champions Minor division, is: Jake Cutter, Maddox de Bretteville, Brandon Lindsay, Will Compton, Cooper Noriega, Aidan McDennon, Booker Frith, Ben Kelly, Nolan Naess, Adam Kerfoot, Paxton Burzell, Jeremy Hayes. Manager: Coby Naess. Coaches: Dave Frith, Kevin McDennon.