The Pacific Little League team's secret weapon isn't a dominating pitcher. Or an overpowering slugger.
Nope, it's a rubber chicken.
The rubber chicken is used to keep the 12 kids, who are 12- or 13-year olds, relaxed during stressful games. It's proved effective, along with some fantastic baseball by the players, who shook off a tough loss to Federal Way and came back through the consolation bracket to meet up with the Federal Way Little League team again.
Pacific won both contests, the second one by 10 runs in four innings, to punch its ticket to the Little League Northwest Regional, Aug. 1-9 in San Bernardino, California. There it hopes to earn a berth in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Besides Pacific, representing Washington, the other teams in the Northwest Regional are Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming.
“It keeps everybody loose,” Pacific Little League manager Robley Corsi, Jr., said about the chuicken. “It just sits on the bench and whenever we need the rubber chicken, it's there.”
The rubber chicken helped the Pacific Little League All-Stars navigate the state tournament in mid-July. The players won their first game on July 12th against Eastlake 13-7, before falling to Federal Way by the same score. They quickly rebounded with a 15-8 win against Gig Harbor, a 14-4 victory over West Seattle and an 11-2 triumph versus North Bothell, which set up a championship rematch with Federal Way at Bar-S Playground in West Seattle on July 19th.
Since Federal Way hadn't lost in the tournament, Pacific had to beat the All-Star squad twice. It got halfway there, edging Federal Way 2-1 in the first game to set up the championship game. The second contest wasn't nearly as close, with Pacific defeating Federal Way 12-2 in four innings to earn a berth at regionals.
It's the first time in 22 years that Pacific Little League — which draws players from Edmonds, Lynnwood and unincorporated Snohomish County — is sending a team to regionals.
“The thing we've been talking about this whole time is, ‘It takes a team,'” Corsi said. “Once we lost that first game to Federal Way … we got the train rolling and it's hard to slow us down once we get rolling. This team is very much about playing baseball. I think that these kids would play baseball every single day.”
It was the latest in what's becoming a budding Little League rivalry. As 10-year olds, Federal Way knocked Pacific out of the state tournament. Pacific, which finished fourth in 2012 and second a year ago, got a little revenge with two big victories this time around.
“Beating Federal Way twice really felt good,” 12-year old pitcher and outfielder Colton Walsh said.
“Winning those two games evened us up with them and it just felt good,” added Karsen Tjarneberg, a 13-year old pitcher who cites Danny Farquhar as his favorite player. “We knew we could even up the series with them and get all the revenge we needed with those two wins.”
By winning the state tournament, Pacific became the first Little League team from Snohomish County to make it to regionals since the Mill Creek All-Star team did it in 2008. Corsi reached out to Scott Mahlum, the head coach of that Mill Creek team, to pick his brain and learn the keys to success at the tournament.
Mahlum's Mill Creek team outscored its opponents 80-8 and clinched a berth in the Little League World Series where it went 2-2 and made it to the United States semifinals.
While talking with Mahlum, who now runs Mill Creek Sports, Corsi was given advice on everything from dealing with temperatures that exceed 100 degrees to avoiding the food served at the stadium.
The former Mill Creek coach said the biggest thing is to try to keep everything as normal as possible for the players, despite the fact that each game will be streamed online at ESPN3.com starting with Friday's 8:30 a.m. game against Oregon.
“Don't let that stuff distract you,” Mahlum said. “They'll have different things where they want to interview the kids. I told (Corsi) the most important thing is keep your regular routine. If you took batting practice for an hour and a half before the game, then do that down there. Keep doing what got you there. It'll work.”
Mahlum talked about his “special” team that featured several players that went on to play college baseball. Alec Kisena (Edmonds Community College), Casey Dawes (Pacific Lutheran University), Joakim Soderqvist (Bellevue) and Derrick Mahlum (PLU) have all gone on to play baseball in college. Jason Todd (Portland) and Dan Kingma (Washington) will play basketball now that their high school careers are completed.
The former players had some sage advice for the Pacific team about to make the trip to San Bernardino.
“It's still the same game. It hasn't changed,” said Todd, a pitcher for the 2008 Mill Creek team. “Yes it is a bigger stage and a higher quality of competition, but at the same time you've got to just enjoy it and play the game. There are kids whose seasons ended months ago.”
“Stay focused, and keep the goal in mind,” said Kisena. “Regionals is just a stepping stone to the bigger prize.”
One more thing.
“Also, have fun,” Kisena added. “If you're not having fun, why do what you're doing?”
Derrick Mahlum, now a pitcher for PLU, said his teammates still ask him what it was like to play in the Little League World Series. He reiterated how important it is to enjoy the experience and take it all in.
“Make the most of the chance you have,” Mahlum said. “… I didn't realize that it was one of the best tournaments in the world for baseball. I was just out there having fun and playing baseball. Make friends with the rest of the teams and make memories you'll never forget.”
Cheering on the Pacific team is a unique scenario for the former Mill Creek team, which counts Pacific as one of its fiercest rivals.
“It's good that we get to root for them now,” Scott Mahlum said. “Usually we're rooting against them.”
The players are excited to play against the best teams from Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.
“I know we're nervous but we're really excited to play, too. It's a huge stadium,” pitcher Ian Michael, 12, said of Al Houghton Stadium, where the games are held. “I think you just forget about everything that's around you and just focus on playing the game and just know we haven't changed at all. Keep playing how we're playing.”
“It's a big deal,” said 13-year old shortstop/pitcher Tai Starchman, who will be playing this week for the first time since breaking his thumb in the district tournament on July 2. “I know that a lot of people are rooting for us and we really want to get to Williamsport. It's going to be a little bit harder but I think that we can pull through and win it for sure.”
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