Local softball squads join forces for District 16 tournament

After a historic run that stretched well beyond the Little League District 16 Junior All-Star softball tournament, the Crescenta Valley and Foothill teams are welcoming aboard another batch of players for another run in 2013.

With two Burbank players now in the mix, the newly christened Burbank-CV-Foothill Junior softball team is one of seven teams — four local — that will be competing in District 16 competition starting Saturday.

When it comes to new combinations, two all-Glendale all-star teams have also popped up for the first time — Foothill-Vaquero Major and Jewel City/Jewish War Veterans-Foothill 9-10 — after numbers in both leagues dropped.

"I am very pleased with all the respective teams," volunteer District 16 administrator Scott Moro said. "I think that a couple of these teams can go very, very far in their tournaments."

Whether it's their first year playing together or not, a number of district team's ultimate goals lie beyond of the district tournament, but it's first things first for now.

District play opens Saturday for the 10-11 and Major divisions with Juniors not starting until July 8. Champions at each level of the double-elimination format move on to the Section 2 round.

"The regular season is just a preparation for this," Foothill-Vaquero Major Coach Bob Mulcahey said. "This is where the true intensity begins. It's a quick little tournament, but the stakes are higher because whoever wins this plays other districts in Section 2, as opposed to the tournament of champions. The prize is bigger."

Without another District 16 squad to contend with, the Crescenta Valley 9-10 softball team has already advanced to the Section 2 Tournament.

Burbank-CV-Foothill and Tujunga open the Junior bracket at Scholl Canyon Field No. 2 July 8 at 7 p.m. Both teams will play again July 9 — same time, same place — with an if-necessary championship game scheduled for July 10.

While the Crescenta Valley Muir Chase Junior team beat Tujunga for the Tri-Cities Tournament of Champions title, it's important to make sure there isn't a letdown at the District level.

"We've handled our business with [Tujunga] all season and hopefully we'll do it again here in the playoffs, hopefully the girls can rise to the occasion as all-stars," CV Muir Chase and now Burbank-CV-Foothill Coach Will Thayer said. "I am definitely not looking past them in any way, shape or form. You can never underestimate an opponent."

A Crescenta Valley-Foothill team, which was also coached by Thayer, had a tremendous amount of success at the Junior level in 2012. The group won the District 16 tournament by default without another opponent and went on to win the Section 2 and Southern California Division III tournaments to become the first District 16 Junior All-Star softball team to appear in the Western Regionals in about 12 years.

"I think expectations are equally as high this year," Thayer said.

Julia Duarte and Kaitlin Okimoto, who played with CV Muir Chase after their high school freshman seasons at Burbank and Burroughs high, respectively, are two of about six new additions to the CV-Foothill team, which returns a number of stars.

Duarte and Okimoto were permitted to join forces with CV and Foothill because there wasn't a Junior softball team in Burbank, Thayer said.

While Moro hadn't seen or heard much about Burbank-CV-Foothill, he thinks history could mean good things for the group.

"From years past and coaching ability that comes from those programs and the caliber of girls that come out of those programs, I think anything is quite possible," Moro said.

With three teams set for Major competition, the tournament will open Saturday at 5 p.m. when Crescenta Valley faces defending-champion Tujunga at Scholl Canyon Field No. 2.

While Tujunga won Majors in 2012, CV Major Manager Calvin Iyoya's group has moved up a division after winning the 10-11 tournament last year. Iyoya's team is a combination of the Crescenta Valley Red Hots and San Filippo teams from the Tri-Cities Tournament of Champions.

"If I gave it a ranking at regular season, our play was about a seven," said Iyoya in reference to his San Filippo team. "In all-stars, it could jump to eight or even nine.

"The girls know what they know by now. A lot of it depends on the weather, it's going to be a very hot day, and their morale once the first error or first strikeout is made."

Saturday's winner will move on to face Foothill-Vaquero Sunday at 5:30 p.m. That winner will advance to the championship game Tuesday at 7 p.m. The losers from the opening games will square off Monday at 7:30 p.m. to determine the other championship-bound team. An if-necessary championship game is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Mulcahey, for one, is excited to showcase his all-Glendale all-star team for the first time.

"Glendale was always split up into the different leagues and this will be the first time we have a Glendale all-star team," Mulcahey said. "I feel like the playing field is leveled, I am excited."

While exciting, it's certainly a challenge to bring two squads used to squaring off with each other onto the diamond together for the first time.

"We have like nine days to put these girls together and it's hard," Mulcahey said. "The talent level is really high, but it's a question of whether we can mesh or not."

Without a CV team set to defend its title in the 10-11 bracket, Jewel City/Jewish War Veterans-Foothill will square off with Burbank in a best two-of-three series to decide the championship.

"The Burbank team has been together for quite some team and we're basically a one-year team, that's always difficult," JC/JWV-Foothill Coach Manny Gil said of his Glendale all-star team. "Burbank does has the advantage on us because of that, it is what it is; they have been together for so long."

Both teams open Saturday at Scholl Canyon Field No. 2 at 2 p.m. and will play again Sunday at 3 p.m. An if-necessary championship game is set for Monday at 5 p.m.

"I think we're pretty optimistic going into the tournament," said Lewis Oberlander, who coaches the Burbank 10-11 squad. "All of our girls played at the Major level [in the Tri-Cities Tournament of Champions], so they're used to the competition. This was a very young group that competed very effectively at the Major level. As a result, that gives us a pretty good opportunity to succeed.

"The other key note is when you look at the first half of the season with these girls compared to the second half, the rise in their game was pretty great to watch. It was like a light bulb went off and they really started playing."

Oberlander isn't the only one feeling confident, though.

"The level of play at our practices has become very high," Gil said. "[The coaches] looked at these girls and said, 'Wow, everyone here is good.'"

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