In a far-corner field at Northshore Athletic Fields in Woodinville, some crows cranked up their wings and tore past the outfield fence as the North Bothell Little League team began its practice.
The local majors all-stars were perhaps flying even higher on Tuesday evening as they soaked up the sun while giving their gloves a workout before hopping a plane to San Bernardino, California, on Friday morning for the Northwest Regional tournament.
With the Little League World Series in their sights, the state champs will open regionals against Gillette Little League of Wyoming at noon on Sunday in an ESPN+-streamed contest. The six-team tournament — also featuring squads from Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon — will run through Aug. 10. The World Series is set for Aug. 15-25 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Manager Danny Keim told the 12U squad gathered around him and coach Mark Ryder that it will be a privilege to represent North Bothell, District 8 and the state of Washington at regionals. Ryder stressed to the kids that they need to begin the tournament strong.
“They’re a bunch of hard workers and they never give up,” said Keim, recalling the team’s recent nine-day state tournament in Richland where they won seven elimination games to notch the title. “Had a bunch of situations when we were down and even down to our last out there a few times in the last inning, and the boys fought and never gave up.”
Zach Daniel admitted that he had some doubts when North Bothell trailed Federal Way, 8-4, heading into the top of the sixth inning in the championship game on July 28.
Confidence soon reigned supreme for the locals.
“Starting off with Blake (Skinner) hitting our two-run bomb, I think that really got us up,” Daniel said.
Kody Moyer was positive his three-time district-winning team would rebound and snatch its second consecutive victory over Federal Way in the final. With two outs and two on, Ethan Wiley hammered a three-run homer to put the locals ahead, 9-8, which stood as the final score.
“I called that,” Moyer said of Wiley’s dinger. “I was on first base and right before the pitch came, I yelled to my friend, ‘He’s gonna hit a three-run bomb and we’re gonna win this thing.’ Right when that ball was hit, and I saw it fly through the air, I knew it was gone.”
When pitcher Aksel Keim took the mound in the bottom of the sixth, he was faced with the top of Federal Way’s order. Keim and his defense shut them down.
“It was exciting, but it’s scary. It was challenging, but it was fun,” Keim said of his pitching prowess.
Echoing manager Keim’s sentiments, Jacob Zbiegien said the players put in tons of hard work, but they also sport a goofy side. They’re always looking for ways to have fun after getting the job done on the diamond, he said.
Seeing each other every day is special, added Cayden Christopherson, and boarding a plane and flying to San Bernardino will provide more memories alongside some wins that they’d like to nail down at regionals.
For Cole McCourt, a former Northeast Seattle Little Leaguer whose family moved to Bothell two years ago, he injects energy into the team to help bring the players out of slumps. While in Seattle, North Bothell beat his squad twice in the district finals.
“At first it was very weird,” McCourt said about joining the team, “but then I got to know them and it was more fun.”
Nolan LeDoux has known his teammates for three to six years and said that advancing to regionals in California with his buddies is a dream come true. Making the World Series would be off the charts.
“I was always watching the Little League World Series and was just like, ‘If I make it to there one day, I’m gonna like freak out’ ‘cause that’s a huge accomplishment,” said LeDoux, adding that having a solid attitude, heaps of effort and the continued stellar pitching of Moyer, Christopherson, Skinner and Keim will be crucial components for them to reap success at regionals.
Manager Keim said it’s inspiring to watch the players dig within themselves to keep their baseball journey rolling this summer.
“To watch them grow not just from year to year, but even from week to week. To see them practice the things that we work on and execute, and then we get in the games in some of the critical situations and I think that’s also where this team has shined,” he said.
North Bothell also features Dominic Wilson, Koleman Johnson, Jack Smith, Jayden Salman and coach Craig Lohr.
To view the regional schedule, visit https://www.littleleague.org/world-series/2019/llbws/tournaments/northwest-regional/