LONG BEACH The Santa Margarita National All-Star team had their mettle tested numerous times during the Southern California Divisional Little League Tournament.
And on every occasion, Santa Margarita met the challenge.
It all paid off as Santa Margarita defeated Eastlake, 10-8, Sunday, July 30, to capture the Southern California Championship at Stearns Champions Park.
Santa Margarita’s reward is a berth to the prestigious West Regional Tournament in San Bernardino, where they will be among champions from five western states. The winner of the West Regional advances to the Little League World Series scheduled for Aug. 17 in Williamsport, Pa.
Santa Margarita opens the West Regional against Summerlin South, the Nevada champions, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6.
Santa Margarita defeated Eastlake for the second time in the tournament. The first was a 9-8 extra-inning victory on July 23.
Santa Margarita Coach C.J. Ankrum pointed to that first victory as a key moment in the tournament.
“If we lose, we go to the losers’ bracket,” Ankrum said. “We had two or three days off at a time. That is what really helped us … the rest. And we are so deep with pitchers.”
Santa Margarita, the designated home team for the Southern California championship, got off to a shaky start Sunday.
The first six batters in the top of the first got base hits, three for extra bases, giving Eastlake a 5-0 lead before Santa Margarita came to bat.
But after getting roughed up in the first, Santa Margarita starter Bobby Gray settled down, allowing just one run over the next three innings.
“After the first inning, I just kind of calmed down and took deep breaths,” Gray said. “I knew my defense had my back.”