It's believed that Newport Beach Little League has never won a district all-stars title at any level. Newport Beach National, which suffered its first loss in the double-elimination tournament, is the last local team standing and is still only three wins away from making history.
The 9- and 10-year-olds play back at Woodfield Park on Saturday at 1 p.m., in an elimination game against Rancho Niguel. The winner advances to Sunday's championship game against Lake Forest, but Newport Beach National now would need to win both Sunday and Monday against Lake Forest to take the title.
Manager Bob Svendsen wouldn't put it past his team.
"I think all these kids, they have good chemistry with each other," Svendsen said. "They've bonded over a short period of time and they're hungry to win. I think winning our first two games and then upsetting Laguna Niguel has really spurred this team into a new direction. And we have good players, we really do."
He also had to give credit to Lake Forest's pitchers, Ethan Acker, Nathan Church and Dylan Tanner. They combined to strike out eight and walk just one. Church, a lefty who pitched 3 1/3 innings, kept Newport Beach National off balance.
"He was hitting all his spots," Svendsen said. "We haven't seen many left-handed pitchers in All-Stars, and he was super-effective."
Lake Forest broke the game open in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases with no outs and eventually scoring three runs.
Newport Beach National did not give up, even after Lake Forest Manager Colin Tanner brought in his hard-throwing reliever — his son, Dylan. The younger Tanner got two outs in the sixth before plunking Newport Beach National's Nolan Dunn on the leg.
Flood reached on an error and the runners advanced to second and third, but Tanner induced a groundout to end the game.
Reece Berger, Johnny King and Tanner Ivey all pitched for Newport Beach National. Berger was a hero in the previous upset of Laguna Niguel on Tuesday. Playing catcher, he tagged a runner out at home to end the game after a wild pitch, preserving Newport Beach National's 5-4 win.
Jack Stone, Scott Svendsen, Peter Larsen, Kieran Sidebotham and Niko Urban also contributed for Newport Beach National, which did not make an error.
Bob Svendsen said he plans to start Dunn on the mound Saturday. Dunn threw a one-hitter in the team's tournament-opening win over Saddleback.
Newport Beach National hopes it can land back on the right side of another dominant pitching performance.
"[We're] really ready," Dunn said.