When the Davis National All-Stars wrapped up the Little League District 64 Juniors championship on Wednesday — thanks to an 8-6 win over Dixon in Vacaville — it got me thinking about what a lucky man Dan Ariola will be in the next few years.
Manager Kevin Bell’s corps of 13- and 14-year-old ballplayers is good. Really good.
After beating Davis American in the tourney opener on June 25, the locals dropped a second-round contest to Winters. From there, it was win or go home.
DNLL assistant Pete Schouten, after watching the local kids come up through the so-called loser’s bracket to win four straight (including two over once-unbeaten Dixon), said it was like watching the movie “Groundhog Day.”
“The same thing each night,” he told Bell. “Battle, win, play tomorrow.”
For their Bill Murray-like efforts, Davis National has booked a trip to the Section 1 playoffs beginning July 13 in Healdsburg.
“We expect more of the same in that tournament,” Bell believes, not only more good baseball from his club, but more challenging squads in the form of five other district champions.
“It will be good, tough competition,” Bell says, adding: “This experience has been really good for our guys and I expect us to do well.”
A look at Bell’s lineup backs up the coach.
Connor Bunfill has been a capable leadoff hitter, solid center fielder and a strong No. 2 pitcher. Bunfill’s hot bat helped carry Davis in the Dixon series.
Then there’s Ryan Bell, the smooth-swinging lefty who provided a giant 5-4 complete-game victory last Friday in an elimination game against Vacaville National.
In the title contest Wednesday, Bell went five innings and left with an 8-2 lead before Dixon rallied late. He also drove in a run and scored twice.
He’s had two hits or more in four postseason games and plays a myriad positions.
Gabe Gutierrez, who spends his plate time in the No. 3 slot, is a play-anywhere talent who has given this team quality innings on the mound.
Clean-up hitter Jacob Wieking had seven hits in his last four games and is another of those guys who bounces around the field — shortstop, first base, pitcher.
When Davis stopped Winters, 10-5, last weekend — avenging the earlier loss — Wieking went 5 1/3 innings before turning things over to eventual winner Tanner Olney.
And speaking of Olney, a spot reliever, he earned the save in Wednesday’s 8-6 thriller over Dixon. Olney — normally a catcher — gives Davis a heckuva bat at the bottom of Bell’s order.
And when he’s not behind the plate, Trevor Hewitt is a more-than-able catcher.
Take the Dixon finale, for example …
With Davis leading 8-4, two on for Dixon and one out, Hewitt finished a double play that those in attendance will be talking about through the summer.
Reliever Bunfill coaxed a ground ball to second. The Keating Park grass was especially long for this tournament and Kevin Blanc had to charge. His only play was to the plate, where Hewitt applied the tag for a huge out.
On the throw, Dixon batter Matt Butler alertly took off for second, teammate Spencer Webb assessing things from third…
Hewitt felt he had a shot to get Butler, but Davis second baseman Blanc took the throw in front of the bag as Webb broke for the plate. Blanc returned the throw home as Butler stood safely at second.
The throw was 10 feet up the line and put Hewitt and Webb on a collision course. Hewitt went into a headlong dive to snag the throw as Webb tried to jump over him. As Hewitt — putting himself in harm’s way — made the airborne catch, he left his glove aloft just long enough for Webb’s foot to touch it as he went by.
The inning-ending (and game-saving double play) went 4-2-6-2. Not everyday baseball: two runners thrown out at home on a ground ball to second. (Hewitt, Olney, Bunfill and Bell all received game balls for their title-game efforts.)
And so it went for the Nationals in their heart-stopping six-game week.
“The only thing I ask of my players is that they work hard, play hard and, most importantly, have fun,” Bell told me a couple of weeks ago. “It’s an honor to be selected to manage the D64 Junior National squad. This is a great group of kids who really want to compete and succeed.
“At the same time it’s bittersweet since it’s the last time I’ll be coaching Ryan.”
Papa Bell says watch closely as a handful of his all-stars soon will turn their attention to helping the Blue Devils continue their baseball excellence.
Remember the names, which include Ronny Leymaster, Sebastian Anaya, Lucas Russell and Gavin Schouten.
Judging from the overall performance of this Juniors team, DHS skipper Ariola is going to be writing thank-you notes to Bell, Schouten and fellow coach Alex Gutierrez someday soon.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.