Chandler Little Leaguers set for next challenge at state tourney - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Little Leaguers set for next challenge at state tourney

July 20th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Chandler Little Leaguers set for next challenge at state tourney
Sports and Recreation

By eric newman

Staff Writer

Chandler National South’s 12-and-under Little League All-Stars had a well-deserved Saturday-night celebration on July 7.

Having scored two runs in the final inning of the District 13 championship game – off a bases-clearing double by Max Henry, 12 – Chandler edged Ahwatukee, 4-3, to advance to the Arizona Little League State Tournament in Scottsdale, which began July 17.

The players were jubilant, but by the time they returned to the practice field on July 10, coach Joe Strazz said that the team’s focus was completely on Scottsdale.

“What I sensed is that it’s just another practice. I don’t see people patting themselves on the back, because we just have another job to do at this tournament. And we want to keep working and going after it,” he said.

The state tournament, comprising 14 teams of 12-and-under all-star teams that won district competitions, will begin with pool play, fighting for spots in the knockout rounds. The survivor of the ensuing bracket play not only wins the state title but also a trip to the West Regional Tournament in San Bernardino, California, in late July.

Unlike many of the dominant teams in other regions, Chandler National South had to fight for each win in District 13, traditionally one of the state’s toughest, going to extra innings in knockout play, narrowly scraping by each round.

Chandler even lost a game in pool play early on, which catcher Michael Strazz, 12, the son of the coach, said the team used as positive motivation.

“Losing that game makes us feel like we know we can be beat, but also that we know we can be better,” he said. “We went 7-1 in the tournament, so we know we can win close games, too. We’ve put a lot of work in to prepare us and I think it will pay off.”

“That game was a good lesson to show them they have to bring it every time, especially now because there are so many good teams out there in the state tournament,” Joe Strazz said.

Though the stakes increase every game, and failure to advance in Scottsdale means the end of the Little League careers of many of the boys who have played together for years, the group exudes a palpable sense of confidence, knowing that their style of play transfers over to success at the state level.

Michael Strazz said the emphasis in practice has been on pitching and defense since the team was formed in early June, and the coaches are banking on that style for success at state.

“Defense is what helps your game and helps your confidence. Especially if you’re the home team. It gives you confidence if you get through the top of the inning without giving up runs, then you can hit well and build a lead,” he said.

Though it is a new experience at this age group, many of the Chandler players were on the 10-and-under division all-star team that reached the state tournament in 2016.

Max Henry, whose big hit sank Ahwatukee in the district final, said the players understand the work necessary to continue to have success.

Winning state in this age group means a bit more than it did as 10-year-olds because the champion represents Arizona in the regional tournament with an opportunity to move on from there to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in August.

“We’re not really even thinking about the next rounds,” Henry said. “All we can do is just play as well as we can here, and then we’ll think about that if it happens.”

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