It’s a team that owns chemistry and composure beyond its years.
When the Davis American 9-10 All-Stars had to emerge from the loser’s bracket to win the recent District 64 tournament, the Little League team showed grit rarely seen in even older squads.
“Look at the scores of our games: We haven’t been blowing anybody out,” said DALL manager Keith Millward. “They’ve all been close, competitive games.
“The biggest key? We’ve made the important plays that other teams haven’t. We’re throwing a ton of strikes … we’re inducing ground balls and fly balls and we’re making a majority of the plays.”
Heady stuff for 13 elementary-school kids.
In going 6-1 in the district tourney, Davis didn’t score more than seven runs. It had to win three straight elimination games to advance.
Now, Millward’s charges get a Saturday meeting with Ross Valley, the District 3 champion, in the opening round of the Section 1 tourney in Petaluma. Game time is 2 p.m. at Lucchesi Park.
Members of the local 2014 tourney team — most of whom played in the AAA division this spring — are Joby Antony (majors A’s); Joe Ariola (Astros); Bryce Barker (Angels); Zane Bertero (majors Twins); Jason Inouye (Angels); Ryan Jaramillo (Blue Jays); Owen Millward (Red Sox); Cole Robben (Rangers); Grafton Shorts (majors Blue Jays); Ethan Trinidad (Angels); Colin Walsh (Yankees); Tristen Wollrich (Blue Jays); and Matthew Young (Red Sox).
So how do coaches get a group like this ready for the pressure of postseason play?
“I don’t know,” Millward said with a laugh. “We just got lucky. It’s the attitude of the kids. They’re kind of a special group that way. The positive energy … We’ve been together less than a month, but that positive energy is amazing.
“When something goes wrong, they don’t panic. They just pick each other up.”
Millward, who coached high school baseball at Fairfield and Inderkum high schools for more than a decade, shifted gears when his son Owen turned 5.
“I started to miss a lot of his key moments,” the elder Millward told The Enterprise, adding that his wife Danielle and he talked about him making a commitment change to spend more time with their only child.
Keith, who now teaches at Heron School (Natomas), has been in Davis Little League since Owen was a T-baller.
“In high school, I coached against (Davis High’s) Dan Ariola,” Millward continued. “Now I have his son (Joe) on our team. The whole Little League experience has been terrific.”
Millward says DALL has such even pitching depth that any one of six hurlers — Young, Millward, Barker, Antony, Bertero or Shorts — can come in and get the tough outs.
“We’ve avoided that one bad inning … that stretch that things can snowball on you,” said coach Millward, a San Diego State graduate. “And we have just enough hitting — timely hitting.”
Assisted by Chris Trinidad and Stephen Inouye, Millward says coaching Little League is something parents should try:
“Our league does a fabulous job providing guidance. Start as assistant, learn from guys that have been doing it a little bit longer.”
Despite his prep experience, Millward said even he had to make adjustments going from high school to T-ball …
“Be patient. Attend the clinics Davis Little League provides. Have fun with the kids. It’s not rocket science.”
That fun aspect is what Millward believes eases the pressure felt by most tournament teams.
“You don’t want to tell them not to compete and not to try to win, but at the same time you want to make it a fun experience,” Millward explained. “If you build up (postseason) as this big pressure situation … well, they’re just not ready for that.
“Our whole message to them is ‘what a fun opportunity we have here. We have an opportunity to play against teams from other towns’ and we just want to go out and show them what we can do — show them what Davis Little League is all about.”
As noted in the DLL mission statement, these guys are all about responsibility, learning and fun.
But, still, there’s that hint that these kids are a team that belies its age.
“It’s that good team chemistry. Good composure as a group,” Millward summarized. “For whatever reason, when something goes wrong, it doesn’t rattle us. If anything, we get better when things start to get a little dicey.”
Notes: Lucchesi Park is located at 299 Maria Drive, Petaluma. Located 67 miles from Davis, travel time is about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Directions: Take I-80 west to Highway 37 in Vallejo. Merge west and turn right 16 miles later on Lakeville Highway. Stay west to U.S. 101, then travel north to E. Washington Street (Exit 474), Petaluma. Turn right on E. Washington to Maria Drive. Make a left and Lucchesi Park is on the left. … Northern California section finals are scheduled for July 26 in Tuolumne, but Millward said his kids don’t talk about that: “We’re focused on Ross Valley.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.