When the Northside Little League 11-year-old squad takes the field Saturday in Thousand Oaks, it'll be the lone team from the Santa Maria Valley still standing in the All-Star season.
It's familiar territory for this group. As a 10-year-old team, the Northsiders won the District 65 and Section One tournaments, advancing all the way to the SoCal State Tournament.
The team was the last one standing from the area in 2018 as well. There are five total leagues in the Santa Maria Valley, each typically fielding three All-Star teams for the three age groups, meaning there are about 15 Valley teams when the postseason begins. (Lompoc won the 12-year-old title at District 65 and Arroyo Grande Valley Little League took the 10-year-old title).
The Northside team faces Goleta Valley South, the District 63 champion, Saturday at 3 p.m. The Section One Tournament is hosted by Conejo Valley Little League in Thousand Oaks. If Northside wins, it'll play El Rio Little League on Sunday in the winner's bracket. If Northside loses, it'll play Monday night in an elimination game. The championship is scheduled for Tuesday.
The team's roster features David Cortez III, Michael Rosas, Kamron Owen, Andrew Rice, Ivan Enriquez, twin brothers Jordon and Julius Medina, Isaac Martinez, Thomas Dugger, Devon Bolden, Jayson Rodrigues, Kyle Milner and James Fakoury.
The squad lost its first game of the All-Star season falling to Santa Maria Westside 6-4, a game manager Aaron Rice said was a Buster Douglas-over-Mike Tyson type of upset.
Northside then won seven games in eight days to win the District 65 title, avenging the loss to Westside by beating them 11-2 in the championship game.
"The pitching was huge for us to win those seven games at district," Rice said. "Of our 13 kids, 10 of them pitched in district. We have our core five or six guys. Those are our big guns, but a kid like Isaac Martinez came on to pitch and he helped us out a lot."
Rice says the Medina twins, Milner and Rodrigues are his team's 'big guns' on the mound.
Julius Medina hit .533 during the District 65 Tournament. Fakoury hit .476 and may be the team's top all-around player. The team also features Milner, one of the few 10-year-olds playing with an 11-year-old squad. Milner likely has the most power of any of the team's hitters.
Northside has consistently put together some of the strongest teams in the area. Northside won last year's District 65 title at the 12-year-old level and the 10-year-old team won both the district and section tournaments. The league usually contends for the Valley championship across the various age levels as well.
"We're kind of a smaller league, we have about 200 kids," Rice said. "From our boundaries, from the Riverbed to Broadway, there's a lot of baseball talent right here in these neighborhoods. These kids really love their baseball."
Rice says there's 55 players at the Majors Division at Northside, with five 11-player teams. Being a smaller league creates solid chemistry with the players. But the coaching staff also works together well.
"Even though I'm the manager, that's just a title," Rice said. "We're all just coaches. We all make the decisions, there's not one guy, it's not a dictatorship. For Saturday, we already have our pitching set, the lineup, positions on the field. That's all set by the three of us."
The coaching staff is also dedicated. Since the District 65 Tournament wrapped up earlier than the other district tourneys, the coaches scouted other teams, checking out games in Oxnard to get an eye on the competition.
The winner of the Section One Tournament advances to the SoCal Division III Tournament held in Long Beach, starting July 20.