SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The Little League team from Washington City, Utah, is just two wins away from playing in the Little League World Series after a surprising run through the West Regional Tournament.
Tonight, the Utah team plays No. 1 seed Southern California (Huntington Beach) on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. MT in the regional semifinals.
Washington City manager Mark Sampson says its the furthest any Utah team has advanced in the famous tournament in recent memory.
Not that his team is satisfied.
"Everyone told us to not expect to win, just to have fun," Sampson said. "Well, we have fun when we win, so we'll do both."
The team made up of 12-year-olds has impressed, beating some tough teams in the process. After topping Arizona (Rio Rico) 5-2 in the opener, Washington beat defending United States champion Hawaii (Wailuki) 5-3 to secure a spot in the semifinals.
The Utahns fell to Northern California 2-1 in the final game of pool play, giving them the No. 4 seed going into the knockout rounds.
However, it works out, Sampson said, because that will allow him to start his ace pitcher, Seth Corry, against the tournament's toughest team in the semifinals. Corry, a left-hander, is leading the regional in strikeouts.
Sampson's son Weston will be catching for Corry, just as he has for the last four years.
"(The team) has a lot of experience," said Mark Sampson, adding that they have been playing 10 to 12 tournament games every year for the past four years. He doesn't see them making silly mistakes just because they're playing on national TV — he expects them to thrive under the pressure.
"They'll be hard to rattle," he said Thursday night as his team was playing ping pong and pool.
Other players on the Washington City roster include: Marc McArthur, Brigham Gardner, Kailor King, Jagun Leavitt, Erik Sanchez, Tanner Staheli, Cody Riddle, Jarod Stirling and Rian Terry.
Delynn Corry and Ocey Leavitt are Sampson's assistant coaches.
One thing viewers may notice tonight is the size differences of the teams. Sampson's teams are the shorter ones.
"We like being the underdogs," he said. "It's a David and Goliath story."
If Utah wins tonight, the team will advance to the West Regional championship game on Saturday at 7 p.m. (MT) on ESPN.
Little League West Regional Tournament
San Bernardino, Calif.
N. California vs. Nevada, 3 p.m.
Utah vs. S. California, 9 p.m.
Games will be broadcasted on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com