Torrance opens Little League World Series with 10-2 win
A little over a year ago, Krista Cornett held her son, Levi, in her arms.
Two weeks into a coronavirus pandemic that had kept him from his school, his friends and, most of all, his Torrance Little League baseball team, Levi couldn’t help but break down and cry.
“For these boys,” Krista said, “baseball is their normalcy.”
And for the better part of last summer, at a formative juncture of their childhoods, kids like him had to learn to live without it.
That nightmare, however, is now over. For the Torrance Little League squad, this summer has instead turned into a dream come true.
On Thursday, Torrance became the first Los Angeles County team since 1994 to participate in the Little League Baseball World Series, securing a 10-2 win against Hooksett, N.H., in its opening game to advance to the winners bracket of the 16-team double-elimination event.
“We were itching to get out and start playing,” Torrance coach Javier Chavez said. “The kids responded really well to everything that was thrown at them. This is a good start for us moving forward.”
Torrance is the first L.A. County team since 1994 to reach the Little League Baseball World Series. They begin play on Thursday.
Torrance was in cruise control for most of the night, scoring four runs in the second and fifth innings before tacking on two more in the sixth. It wore down New Hampshire with a patient attack, drawing eight walks while striking out just six times, and a balanced lineup that saw seven different players combine for eight hits.
Andrew Nuruki and Elias Emerson led the way with two RBIs each.
“The kids did really well in making contact, finding the ball and making sure we were able to get some runs,” Chavez said. “Really proud of them.”
On the mound, Torrance starter Gibson Turner gave up only one run in a 3⅓-inning start. Reliever Dominic Golia pitched 1 ⅔ scoreless innings. Xavier Navarro finished the game in the sixth, giving up one run.
“I was definitely nervous going up there, because I knew it was a big game and was going to be on TV,” said Turner, who has been the ace of Torrance’s pitching staff this summer. “But it was a lot of fun. It was kind of exciting.”
And, unlike its appearances in both the Southern California and West Region championships, Torrance advanced into the winners bracket where they will face Hamilton, Ohio, on Sunday. It will need at least three more wins to reach the Little League Baseball World Series final.
“We know that we’re going up against the top talent in the country,” Chavez said. “We wanted to be able to go out and set the tone.”
But Thursday marked the culmination of a months-long return to normalcy, too. Krista Cornett, who also serves as Torrance Little League’s president, said their league returned to play this spring as soon as possible following California’s relaxing of COVID-19 protocols for youth sports.
“We felt that as a community, we needed this back,” Cornett said. “They needed to be able to see their friends. They needed to be able to get out and exercise. So we basically planned the entire year as if this season was happening.”
After having to call off last year’s season after only two weeks, Torrance Little League was able to stage its campaign this summer in full -- albeit with fewer teams than normal.
“We fielded only four teams,” Chavez said. “But those teams were stacked.”
From that group, Torrance constructed a 14-player All-Star roster that embarked on the road to Williamsport.
After advancing through its district tournament, it survived the losers bracket in the Southern California championships, winning seven straight elimination games, and the West Region, finishing as runner-up to Honolulu, Hawaii, to become the first L.A. County team since Northridge in 1994 to reach the Little League Baseball World Series.
“It’s been surreal,” Cornett said. “We’ve been going through this all summer long. And every time we get through the next hurdle of tournaments, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is happening. This is real.’”
Torrance plays in the Little League World Series representing California as the first Los Angeles County team in 20 years.
There are still signs of the pandemic in Williamsport this week.
Coaches and players are being isolated in quasi-bubbles, not even allowed to interact with parents in-person.
The only spectators inside the 10,000-seat Lamade Stadium on Thursday were family, friends and volunteers, leaving large swaths of seats and almost the entire outfield berm empty with the event closed off to the general public because of a recent rise in nationwide COVID-19 cases.
Mask rules and other health and safety measures remain in place as well.
But after being canceled last year, the event was able to begin as scheduled on Thursday. And for Torrance, simply walking onto the field, in front of a national television crowd on ESPN, helped make up for much of what was lost the 16 months prior.
They’ve crossed one dream off their bucket list. Now, they’re focused on capturing the next.
“My hat goes off to these kids,” Chavez said. “The kids stuck with this program throughout the [pandemic] struggles. They didn’t fall off at all. It’s a testament to their desire of winning … We’re scrappers, and we’re gonna fight till the end.”
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