Strategy is many times an important key in Little League tournament play. Ken Maxwell, coach of the Lincoln County 10-11-year-old All Star Little League team employed just that last week at the District III tournament in Elko.
He said in the first game against Silverada (Dayton) on Thursday the plan was to “give all the pitchers a little bit of work, and hopefully we could score enough runs to win and get to the second round.”
Scoring runs wasn‘t the problem, as the boys pounded out 11 hits for the game and scored nine times in the first two innings. But the Lincoln pitchers also issued 11 walks.
And Silverada could score, too, finally drawing within one run after five innings, so it took a good defensive effort with two groundouts in the bottom of the sixth for Lincoln to take a 15-14 win.
On Saturday in a winner’s bracket semi-final match with Elko, the strategy began to take on a more definite tone. Lincoln spotted Elko a run in the first inning but held them scoreless after that.
Maxwell said, “This was really important, because by winning that game, the other team has to then win an elimination game for the chance to play you again and then would have to beat you twice to win the championship, while you only have to win one game for the title. I planned to throw my best pitcher the whole game. It was a gamble, sure it was, as he would be all used up as a pitcher for the tournament, but with a win we would be in a commanding position, and our other pitchers would still be available.”
Lincoln scored at least three times each in the first three innings and eventually won 11-1 on the 10-run rule after four complete innings. “I felt our kids really hit the ball well,” Maxwell said.
Lincoln came up with timely hits, stuck to its game plan and played outstanding defense – rendering Elko, a pre-tourney favorite, scoreless the rest of the game. Elko hit the ball frequently and often made solid contact, but the hits generally wound up right at Lincoln defenders, who fielded the ball cleanly and made on-point throws for the out.
The Sunday afternoon championship was against High Desert (Fernley), “A good hitting team,” Maxwell said in watching them in some of their other games.
Lincoln’s appearance in the finals was the first time in recent memory the team had made it to the championship game with no losses. In previous years, when the team had advanced that far, they had to go through the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination tourney.
Lincoln scored four runs in the first inning against High Desert on four hits but did not have another hit until Hagen Harris had the game winning hit in the bottom of the sixth. In the meantime, Harris and fellow pitchers Hagen Boyce and Cody Howard held High Desert to only three hits.
High Desert scored two runs in the second and fourth innings for a 4-4 tie going into the top of the sixth.
Fine defensive work helped the Lincoln kids on a couple of occasions when High Desert had the bases loaded, but could not score.
Maxwell said of the defense, “It wasn’t something we have really worked on, the kids just had a keen sense of the game of baseball and where to go to get a key out, especially in the sixth. Throughout the game, we got key outs against some of their key players.”
He specifically noted a fine defensive play made by Harris at second base in the sixth inning, to bare hand a high hop a few feet behind the bag, and make the long throw to get the force out at third base.
A walk to another batter loaded the bases for High Desert again, but the next batter struck out on a 3-2 count to end the inning.
In Lincoln’s sixth inning, a bases loaded, two out single down the third base line by Harris brought in the winning run. The third baseman knocked the ball down, but had no play at the bag for a force out, and pinch runner Braiden Maxwell crossed the plate for a 5-4 win.
“We don’t usually have a 10-11 year old tournament team,” Maxwell said, “Usually, it’s an 11-12-year old group, so this was really special for this age group of kids.”
Lincoln advances to the four-team, double elimination 10-11 year old state tournament July 24-29 in Henderson. But that is as far as they will go, as it is only the 12-year olds who go to the Southwest Regional in San Bernardino and possibly the Little League World Series.