After an undefeated week of competing in the Little League Northwest Regionals against teams from Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana, the Eastlake Majors Baseball Little League team earned a trip to the 2021 Little League World Series.
Their tournament success began with Oregon’s Lake Oswego team on Aug. 8, in which Eastlake won 5-0, with pitchers Sanath Chari and Eli Jones getting a combined ten strikeouts. The team’s seven hits overpowered Lake Oswego’s one hit, with batter Kellen Kinney hitting a sacrifice fly during the first inning. Of the five runs, Eli Jones scored two. Logan Rausch, Sule Tian and Jackson Wheeler scored one each.
Their next scheduled game, a semifinal on Aug. 9 against Alaska’s Knik team, was canceled after one of the Alaska players tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 7, granting Eastlake an automatic 6-0 win.
Team President Nicole Steinbok said that she was heartbroken for the Alaska team that was sent home.
“All the players, coaches, and parents of each team have put a lot of time and effort to get to this level,” Steinbok said in an email to the Sammamish Independent.
The incident also increased concerns of COVID-19 spread, though there were no more confirmed cases for the rest of the tournament.
The finals against Montana’s Bolder/Arrowhead on Aug. 12 ended in a 10-4 Eastlake victory. This was the game that guaranteed Eastlake a trip to the World Series. The team scored most of their runs in the third and sixth innings, earning five and four runs respectively.
Eastlake racked up 15 hits, with Jones, Kinney, Chari, and Ryder Oswalt scoring multiple hits. Jones went 4-for-4, driving three runs while Kinney went 3-for-4 and hit a home run.
In total, Kinney scored two runs, with Jones, Rausch, Chari, James Ort III, JJ Hamilton, Sawyer Todd, Walter Steinbok and Jackson Wheeler scoring one each.
“It was very exciting, and the pitching was really good,” said Jones, who pitched for four innings and struck out nine players. He credits the defense at the shortstop and outfield for their victory.
“[The] defense held out opponents to a low amount of runs all three games,” said Steinbok, who traveled with the team to San Bernardino, California.
During the game, her son Walter Steinbok made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day by dodging the Montana catcher while running home, scoring Eastlake’s first run.
Eastlake played against the elimination bracket’s victor, Lake Oswego, on Aug. 14 for the Northwest Regionals Championship. In their second meeting of the tournament, Eastlake won 2-1 in what turned out to be their closest game for the week.
One reason for the close score was Oregon’s pitcher Chase Kelley, who had seven strikeouts on the pitching side and six hits and one run on the batting side.
Furthermore, both Eastlake and Lake Oswego advance to the World Series as victors of the winner and elimination brackets.
“While both teams were giving it their all, it was a bit of a different vibe knowing you still move on regardless of the result,” Steinbok said.
Chari dominated on the mound, throwing eleven of the fourteen strikeouts. Jones and Steinbok scored one run each, both in the third inning.
Overall, Jones believes that the regionals games were much more difficult than the state games.
“The regional was very fun, but I feel that state was a little bit easier,” said Jones.
He attributed a major factor in their victories to the hard work of the coaches.
“Coach Rich and Coach Kim and Coach Ajay were really good coaches,” Jones said. “Coach Rich makes us run a lot, but it makes us a lot tougher and stronger.”
From here, the team will play in the 2021 World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, starting Aug. 19. This will be the second time Eastlake has made it to the World Series, having previously played in 2013 and finishing in third place among the U.S. teams.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Little League World Series will only feature domestic teams this year. Eastlake’s first game will be on Aug. 20 at 4:00 p.m. PT against Texas’s regional champions, Wylie Little League. The Texas team has gained notoriety for their catcher, Ella Bruning, who is the only girl playing in this year’s tournament.
More information about the Little League World Series and the schedule can be found here. Interested viewers can watch the game on ESPN2. A Sammamish watch party will be hosted at Pine Lake Ale House. The team is still accepting donations to help fund their travel expenses on their GoFundMe page.