After three victories across age groups in the Maryland State Tournament, Montgomery County Little League (MCLL) is sending three teams to regional tournaments across the Northeast.
The dominant 12U Lower County team (MoCo LoCo), centered in Bethesda and for children age 10 to 12, is playing for a ticket to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This Sunday, they are headed to the Mid-Atlantic Region tournament in Bristol, Connecticut. They will compete against three other champion teams from Delaware, Pennsylvania and D.C. Gameplay runs through Aug. 11; games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.
Upper County’s 10U and 11U teams, centered in Germantown, each claimed state titles of their own to advance to regionals in New England. The 11U team began gameplay in Beverly, Massachusetts on Aug.1, and were the first Upper County Team to enter regional tournament play.
The 10U team is headed to Cranston, Rhode Island, Saturday to Aug. 12; they went undefeated in both tournament runs (districts and states), winning the state championship game 11-0.
Both Upper County teams will finish their runs at the regional tournaments – as the World Series is only reserved for the 12U players.
MoCo LoCo has eyes on World Series
Sushil Rane, MoCo LoCo’s coach, said the main focus this week is mental preparation.
“It’s about getting ready for the game and staying calm, staying composed knowing that there are going to be distractions,” Rane said. “Knowing that it’s going to be a different environment, there’s going to be cameras and all of that stuff.”
The team went undefeated in the State Tournament with an impressive offense performance, clinching the title 7-4 against Hughesville Baseball and Softball.
Three home runs in the championship game helped propel this victory – two by Konnor Huang and one by Freddy Sharman, MoCo LoCo’s starting pitcher. Japanese stand-out player Sana Watanuki then closed out the game on the mound.
“She has such composure and such self-confidence that we needed somebody like that to overtake the very slim lead,” Rane said.
Watanuki said she had full confidence of herself and her teammates abilities.
As she told MoCo360 on July 20, “I just want to play in the World Series, I think we’re gonna win.”
Rane plans to screen “The Perfect Game,” a 2009 film about a non-U.S. team winning the Little League World Series for MoCo LoCo and is arranging for a former Little League World Series player and coach to speak with them, all to get them mentally prepared for the road ahead.
“Their job isn’t done here,” he added.
Upper County teams make history, advance to Regional Tournament play
The 11U Upper County team traveled to Massachusetts for the East Region State Champions Invitational tournament as the first Upper County team ever to enter the regional tournament. They went 0-3, but coach Drew Squeglia said they learned a lot and “had a blast.”
This weekend, the 10U Upper County team (on an undefeated hot streak in recent tournament play) will travel to Rhode Island in their own quest for a regional title.
Squeglia, who is also president of the MCLL Board of Directors, said this is an exciting time for local baseball.
“The future is pretty bright in Montgomery County… we’ve never been a real baseball hot bed, until recently when there’s a lot of success coming from these tournament teams,” Squeglia said.
“It’s a big sense of accomplishment because Lower County has been dominant for so long,” said Adam Weber, 10U Upper County Coach and MCLL Board Member.
Despite gameplay ending at regionals, Squeglia sees it as experiential for the players, giving them “a taste of what it would be like if they made it to Williamsport.”
Registration numbers for MCLL have tripled in recent years, Weber said, with more than 3,000 players involved across the county.
MCLL set up a joint GoFundMe campaign for all three teams’ travel and lodging costs, with funds going towards families who have requested scholarship assistance, Weber said.