As soon as the Little League World Series crowned its champion in Williamsport and the Major League pennant races started to heat up, the competitive baseball travel season, hosted by the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), got underway.
Moving up into an older age group for their new travel ball campaign, the 13-and-under Delta Dawgs, comprised of players from all over East County, greeted their new season in fine fashion and entered a championship game for the 14th time in the last two years.
"It's a great way to kick off the start of another season," said Coach Bert Gough. "We're pleased to see the boys gelling early in the year, especially with several new players just joining the team."
The Dawgs batted slightly under .300 for the weekend and outscored their opponents 27-14, splitting four games en route to another medal finish. Dawg pitchers were also superb, posting a 2.57 ERA that kept the team within striking distance in each of its games.
The opening game matched the Dawgs against the Brentwood Broncos, another hometown team full of players just getting their feet wet in travel baseball competition. The Dawgs sprang out of the gates with four runs in the first inning and five more in the second on their way to a 12-2 win.
The team had a tougher time against the Laguna Thunder from Elk Grove, which handed the Dawgs their first tournament loss, 7-3. According to coach Sean Halter, "I like what I'm seeing from this team. Their resiliency and attitude will take them deep into many tournaments."
The playoffs on the second day of competition pitted the Dawgs against another Brentwood team in the semifinal game. As the No. 2 seed coming into the game, the Dawgs beat the Brentwood Blast 8-0 after scoring three early runs.
The Dawgs, a former four-time USSSA champion, tried valiantly to win an elusive fifth title after overcoming an early 3-0 deficit in the championship game. Mike Allen delivered a blow to the Turlock Diamond Dawgs with a prodigious three-run homer to tie the game in the first inning. Delta Dawgs fans will need to start waving rubber chickens at their opponents when Allen steps to the plate. The slugger was given four intentional passes during the tournament, two of which came against Turlock following his first-inning blast.
The final game was a thriller from start to finish. Despite three bases-loaded situations, the hometown team couldn't take advantage of its scoring opportunities, which included putting the tying and winning runs on base in the final inning. The game ended with a razor thin 5-4 victory for the Turlock team.
"It's not bad for our first tournament of the season," said Coach Halter. "This team is ready for a promising and fun year. We'll continue to play better as we get more comfortable with each other."
In the end, after all the excitement, it's time for the Dawgs to get back to school and hit textbooks rather than baseballs, beginning a new chapter in their pursuit of academic excellence.
"Mixing in the fun of competitive baseball is not bad," said Gough. "Our organization continues to underscore that education is still the number-one priority for our players. They're excited to get back to hitting the books and back to playing baseball just as soon as the last out was called."
- Contributed by John David