They may be few in number — only 11 players on the roster — but the Davis National Little Leaguers are battle-tested and ready for their Section 1 Juniors Tournament debut against the District 3 champions on Saturday.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Healdsburg Recreational Park in Wine Country.
Having to beat Dixon twice to win the District 64 crown last week, manager Kevin Bell’s guys showed their mettle as every member of the squad contributed.
Now it’s off to Healdsburg this weekend to see if Bell’s Brigade can put another solid series together.
“There’s no one you can pitch around in this lineup,” the skipper told The Enterprise just before another spirited Civic Center practice this week. “Our strength? At this point, it’s clearly our experience.”
Bell said that “as parents, maybe we were a little surprised at winning the District 64 title. But the coaches told these guys all that week that they were the best team in the tournament. They proved it.”
Bell’s son Ryan has been one of the axles on Davis’ rolling wagon. Hitting over .500 in the district tournament, the youthful Bell says the Nationals are looking forward to their 100-mile journeys to Healdsburg.
“We know the other teams are going to be tougher now,” the lefty reports. “We’re going to have to work harder in practice. From here on, we have to keep working.”
Bell, who pitches and plays myriad infield positions, says nothing about the postseason has surprised the team.
“We have a lot of experience,” adds the soon-to-be Emerson Junior High ninth-grader, citing travel-ball commitments as high-level conditioning. “Most of us have been playing competitive ball before the Little League season. We knew some of the situations (from the last tourney).
“We play very well together as a team. There’s (chemistry) here.”
Papa Bell says being a dad and coach to one’s son at the same time “is one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had … but I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
Kevin Bell, who has a handful of travel-ball players on the National team, echoes his son’s belief that an offshore team like Ryan’s Dragons has been a plus in the playoffs.
Sebastian Anaya — a catcher and second baseman — personifies the can-do attitude of these Davis juniors.
“Our chances are fairly good,” Anaya says. “We’re starting to do well as a team.”
The Emerson eighth-grader, like most of his teammates, wants to play baseball at Davis High. And if he keeps up his timely hitting, the Blue Devils will welcome him gladly.
In a 5-4 victory over Vacaville National on June 29, Anaya’s walk-off infield hit scored a hustling Jacob Wieking to keep DNLL alive.
“He’s a good, coachable kid who can play a lot of positions,” manager Bell said of the player everyone calls Sea-Bass. “That hit was as big as any we’ve had.”
And Davis has had a lot of big hits …
Coming into district play, Bell was concerned with his team’s offense. But with hitters like his kid, Wieking, Gabe Gutierrez, Connor Bunfill, Trevor Hewitt and Tanner Olney (who’s been batting ninth) all hitting .400 or better, it was juggling his pitching that became the challenge — and will continue to be.
In tournament play, these 13- and 14-year-old hurlers are limited to 95 pitches in their first game of the week, then subject to a formula for subsequent appearances that would boggle Einstein’s thought process.
Bell says Davis is lucky: “We’re deep. We’ve have some good arms.”
And the coach will need them. The five-team tournament is double-elimination and could run through next Thursday.
Notes: Wieking, Olney, Gutierrez, Bunfill, Hewitt, Bell and Anaya are joined on the National roster by Kevin Blanc, Lucas Russell, Ronny Leymaster and Gavin Schouten. … Heading to the game? Here are the directions from Davis: Head west on I-80 to Highway 12. Travel northwest toward Napa/Sonoma. Turn right on Highways 29/12, then left onto Highways 12/121. In 8 miles there will be a slight left onto Highway 121 then a right onto Highway 116. A left on Stage Gulch Road (still 116) leads to a right onto Lakeville Highway. Next, merge onto U.S. 101 and head north for 30 miles. Exit 503 (Central Healdsburg) is your off-ramp. Keep left at the fork onto Healdsburg Avenue. Turn right on Piper Street and look for the field at 515 Piper St. If you reach Grant Street, you’ve gone too far. Driving time, according to MapQuest.com, is a hiccup over two hours.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.