By Timothy Hessen, Special to the Independent
For the first time in Laguna Beach little league history, the town has won a state championship. The undefeated all-star team clinched their victory of the double elimination state tournament with a tightly contested 7-6 win over Apple Valley on July 14.
The powerhouse Laguna Beach team raced out to a 5-0 lead by the third inning, but Apple Valley stormed back to tie the game 6-6 at the top of the fifth. Laguna Beach regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth with an infield single by Jake Martin that scored Aaron Crosby for the deciding run of the game. Pitcher Declan Jenal then brought the championship home for Laguna with four strikeouts and zero allowed runs in the final two innings.
Laguna Beach will now advance on to the Intermediate 50/70 Regionals, where they will compete amongst seven other state champions for a spot in the Little League Intermediate World Series. As the Southern California representative, Laguna’s all-stars will face off against the Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Northern California, Oregon and Washington state champions from July 20 to 28 in Nogales, Ariz.
It has been a long journey for Laguna Beach little league, who before 2017, had only won two District 55 championships in its history. In the past four years however, the town’s little league community has built a competitive and successful culture, winning seven District 55 Tournament of Champions championships during that span. Nonetheless, a District 55 All Star title and a chance to compete for a state championship still seemed out of reach for Laguna, until this season’s team made history.
Composed of Wyatt Bogdan, Aaron Crosby, Jack Hurst, Kai Kaiser, Jake Martin, Braylon Vellmure, Miles Barnett, Will Kimball, Achilles and Darius Morales, Declan Jenal, Brady Stringham, Beckett Thomson and Justin Yi, the Laguna Beach all-stars clinched a state tournament playoff berth after absolutely dominating the district tournament, winning each game by at least seven runs.
Under the leadership of manager Preston Thomson and coaches Rob Engstrom and Brent Stringham, a state championship was in sight. In the double elimination state tournament final, the team had not suffered a single loss, meaning they would have two chances to finish off Apple Valley for the title. Laguna had given Apple Valley their first loss in the tournament as well in a close 3-1 victory three days prior. In the end, Laguna Beach beat Apple Valley for the second time to complete their undefeated tournament win.
The Intermediate 50/70 Regionals kicked off Saturday. For updates on the tournament and the historic season for the Laguna Beach little league all-stars, follow along at littleleague.org, and consider contributing to the team’s World Series journey by donating to the team GoFundMe.