The Little League World Series is back on in South Williamsport, Pa., and the first salvo has been fired for teams taking the long qualification path to the Keystone State.
This year’s Little League World Series tournament is scheduled Aug. 19-29 for 16 United States-based teams. There will not be an international field this year — the first time since 1975.
Before domestic teams can get there, however, they will have to successfully navigate elimination play at the district, section, divisional and regional levels.
The Little League West Region championship tournament is scheduled Aug. 8-14 in San Bernardino.
The journey starts at the district level. For East County, that includes divisional champions from District 66 and District 41.
California District 66 Little League chartered eight member leagues this year: Lemon Grove, Twin Hills, Spring Valley, Valley de Oro, Encanto, National City American, Las Palmas and San Diego American-Memorial Park.
National City American chartered teams in the youngest divisions (T-ball and Caps).
“San Diego Southeastern was the only league in the district that did not charter after the reopening of youth sports,” District 66 administrator Roland Slade said. “They plan to come back next season.”
Slade said though the season was shortened, the district was still able to get in nearly the regular complement of a normal 20-game season for each team in each league.
“This year we really saw communities come together for the children,” Slade explained. “It was truly refreshing. I look forward to next season as more younger families are finding their way back to Little League Baseball and Little League Softball. I think that is coming from our community- based approach. Little League Baseball and Little League Softball is about building communities with sports — baseball and softball — as a tool.”
California District 41 Little League serves 15 member leagues: Alpine American Little League, El Cajon National Little League, El Cajon Western Little League, Fletcher Hills Little League, Jamul Little League, Julian Little League, Lakeside American Little League, Lakeside National Little League, Mountain Empire Little League, Rancho de Oro Little League, Rios Canyon Little League, Santana National Little League, Santee Pioneer Little League, Singing Hills Little League and West Hills Little League.
Each district has its own qualification process to determine its all-star champion. Teams may participate in round-robin pool play while also participating in double-elimination bracket play.
Championship games wrapped up last weekend.
Only the 12U division leads to the Little League World Series. The 10U, 11U, 13U, 14U and 16U divisions will end at the state level this year.
District 66 champions for the 2021 season included Lemon Grove (10U and Senior Division), Valley do Oro Little League (11U and Intermediate Division) and Spring Valley Little League (12U and Junior Division).
“This year’s all-star tournament play has been top notch,” Slade said. “I can see the influence of the Padres, specifically Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. There is an added level of enthusiasm. The stutter step on a home run trot is obvious.”
Parade of champions
Lemon Grove finished 6-0 to capture the 10U district title with on overpowering offensive showing. Twin Hills finished 4-2 in its six games while Spring Valley and Valley de Oro both finished 2-3. Encanto finished 1-2 while San Diego American finished 0-2. Las Palmas finished 0-3.
Lemon Grove defeated visiting Valley de Oro, 25-1, on June 29, then tacked on a 15-1 victory against Las Palmas on July 3 and a 13-4 win at Spring Valley on July 5.
Lemon Grove swept Twin Hills by scores of 20-2 on July 8 and 15-3 on July 10.
The newly crowned District 66 champions advance to the Section 7 tournament against champions from District 41, District 42 and District 22 that will take place July 17-21 at District 42 Imperial Beach Little League.
Valley de Oro defeated Spring Valley by scores of 3-2 on July 3 and 5-1 on July 5 to capture the teams’ best-of-three 11U division championship series.
Valley de Oro advances to the Section 7 championship series July 17-21 hosted by District 41 Jamul Little League.
The 12U Little League Division included four teams in the finals: Spring Valley, Encanto, Lemon Grove and Twin Hills. The teams finished in that order, with Spring Valley boasting a 7-1 record in eight games played while Encanto posted a 4-3 record in seven games played. Lemon Grove finished 2-4 in six games played while Twin Hills finished 0-5.
Spring Valley suffered a 4-0 loss to Encanto on July 8 but finished the tournament strong with three consecutive wins.
Spring Valley defeated Lemon Grove, 10-0, on July 9, then swept Encanto in a two-game double elimination championship series, winning 3-2 on July 10 and 4-2 on July 11.
Spring Valley now advances to the Section 7 tournament hosted July 17-21 by District 22 El Centro Little League.
The Junior Division (14U) championship series included a best-of-three series between Spring Valley and Encanto. Spring Valley swept two games to claim the division title by scores of 15-13 on July 8 and 21-2 on July 10.
Spring Valley advances to sectional play July 16-21 at Spring Valley Little League.
Lemon Grove swept Spring Valley by scores of 11-2 on June 24 and 9-3 on June 26 to claim this year’s district Senior Division (16U) championship.
Lemon Grove advanced to sectional play July 2-7 at Spring Valley Little League.
The District 66 Intermediate Division (50/70) champion (13U) was determined through a best-of-three series between Lemon Grove and Valley De Oro.
Valley De Oro captured the series two games to one as the teams battled through a decisive third game.
All three games proved high scoring affairs. Lemon Grove won the first game, 13-11, on June 21. Valley De Oro stormed back to win the next two games — 11-10 on June 23 and 13-12 on June 26 — to capture the division championship.
Valley De Oro advanced to the Section 7 championship tournament July 1-5 at District 42 Sweetwater Valley Little League.
District 41 East County champions included Rancho de Oro (10U, 11U and 13U/Intermediate Division), Fletcher Hills Little League (12U) and Santana National (Senior Division).
Alpine American Little League hosted the 10U all-star tournament. Six teams participated in double-elimination bracket play. Rancho de Oro completed tourney play 3-0 to win this year’s championship banner.
Rancho de Oro opened tourney play with a 10-2 win over Lakeside American on July 6 after Lakeside National had defeated Rios Canyon by a score of 22-2 on July 5.
Rancho de Oro defeated Fletcher Hills (11-8 winners over Alpine on July 6) by a score of 7-5 in the winner’s bracket final on July 8. Previously, Alpine American eliminated Lakeside National by a score of 6-3 in a loser’s bracket game on July 8.
Fletcher Hills shut out Alpine American, 10-0, in the loser’s bracket final on July 9 to gain a berth in the July 10 championship game.
Rancho de Oro completed its championship run to this year’s division title with an 18-1 win over Fletcher Hills to advance to sectional play.
Two teams participated in the 11U all-star best-of-three championship series at Rancho de Oro Little League. Rancho de Oro swept the series against Fletcher Hills by scores of 12-3 on July 10 and 10-0 on July 11.
Fletcher Hills and Rancho de Oro little leagues hosted the 12U all-star tournament.
Fletcher Hills completed the six-team double-elimination bracket with an undefeated 4-0 record.
Fletcher Hills faced off tourney play July 6 with a 9-6 win over Alpine American, then blanked Rancho de Oro, 12-0, on July 7.
Fletcher Hills continued its winning ways with a 7-2 win over Singing Hills on July 9.
Singing Hills defeated West Hills, 5-4, in an elimination game on July 10 to rematch with Fletcher Hills in the championship game on July 11.
Fletcher Hills made sure there would be no double-elimination game with a 16-2 win to add an exclamation point to district play.
The next level
Section 7 tournament play in the Junior Division is scheduled to start July 16 and conclude July 21 at Spring Valley Little League. District representatives are from District 22 (TBD), District 42 (Park View Little League) and District 66 (Spring Valley Little League).
The winner advances to the Southern California divisional tournament hosted by Santa Anita District 17 Little League.
The Senior Division tournament took place July 2-7 at Spring Valley Little League.
District champions from District 41 (Santana National), District 42 (Sweetwater Valley) and District 66 (Lemon Grove) participated.
Sweetwater Valley defeated Santana National, 24-2, to blast off the event on July 2 while Sweetwater Valley defeated Lemon Grove, 8-3, on July 3.
Lemon Grove defeated Santana National, 20-5, in a loser’s bracket game on July 5 to meet Sweetwater Valley on July 6. Lemon Grove returned the favor by defeating the District 42 champion by a score of 7-6.
The teams met in a double-elimination contest on July 7. Lemon Grove won another nail-biter over Sweetwater Valley, 5-4, to capture the section banner.
Lemon Grove advances to the Southern California division tournament hosted by San Diego District 32 Little League.
The Intermediate Division sectional included three teams: Rancho de Oro (District 41), Southwest (District 42) and Valley de Oro (District 66). Games took place July 1-5 at Sweetwater Valley Little League.
Rancho de Oro swept through the competition with three commanding victories. The District 41 champions opened the tournament with an 18-1 win over Valley de Oro and swept Southwest by scores of 14-4 on July 2 and 18-1 on July 5 to advance to the Southern California divisional tournament hosted by District 32.
Southwest eliminated Valley de Oro by a score of 24-8 on July 3 in a loser’s bracket contest to gain a rematch against Rancho de Oro.
Tournament of Champions
Prior to all-star tournament play, District 41 crowned its annual Tournament of Champions winners.
This year’s TOC champions included Lakeside National (Little Stars), Fletcher Hills (Minor Division) and Alpine American (Major Division and Intermediate Division).
District 66 elected not to pursue a Tournament of Champions this year, according to Slade.
“We did not have a TOC this year; instead, we chose to run our regular season an additional two weeks,” he said. “That way all the players would get in nearly 20 games.”
Little League World Series to have updated look
The 16 teams that will compete in this year’s Little League World Series will qualify through eight regional tournaments. The top two teams at each regional will qualify.
The Little League International Board of Directors has approved several items to put into place for this year’s event. These include COVID-19 health safety protocols, limited spectator seating and the cancelation of all regional and world series championship tournaments in teenage-based divisions.
There will be no World Series events in the Junior Division (14U) and Senior Division (16U) age groups and for the Little League Intermediate (50/70) Division.
All these tournaments will finish at the state level.
The board’s plan includes a series of COVID-19 mitigation measures to host these tournaments in a healthy, responsible environment.
“Little League puts the health, well-being, and safety of all players and volunteers first and we are looking forward to hosting the Little League Regional and World Series tournaments with that aim this summer,” said Dr. Daniel Lueders, Commission Chair, Little League International Board of Directors member, and UPMC Sports Medicine Physician and Assistant Professor.
“The commission’s recommendations reflect the most current CDC protocols, as well as direct input from state and local public health authorities. The advice of the leading public health, pediatric medicine, epidemiology, mental health and operations experts on the commission prioritize the health and safety of the players, volunteers, family and fans above all else. We are confident that the implementation of these recommendations by Little League International will permit a safe and successful competition this summer and preserve the spirit and the experiences that make those events so special.”
Spectator seating will be allocated for family members and a limited number of individuals associated with the participating teams.
All players and coaches will undergo COVID-19 testing prior to and upon arrival at their tournament location and will have significantly limited contact from other individuals until negative tests can be confirmed.
Coaches and managers are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated and, should a vaccine be available for age-appropriate players, vaccination would be also recommended for players if appropriate, but not required.
There is a proposal to expand the U.S. division at the Little League World Series to 20 teams, beginning in 2022.
Little League Baseball will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.
The Little League Softball World Series is scheduled Aug. 11-18 in Greenville, N.C. and will include 10 teams. It will expand to 12 teams next year.