By Tom Zulewski
Iron County Today
If there ever was a truer value in a “W,” Sidney Webster and Michaela Whitehair proved it to perfection for Cedar National at the Little League West Regional in San Bernardino, Calif., last Friday.
With two out, Webster singled down the right-field line to score Whitehair with the game’s only run in the bottom of the eighth inning as Cedar National beat Mill Creek, Washington 1-0 at Houghton Stadium to capture its first title and a trip to the Little League World Series.
The twin Ws combined for six of Cedar National’s seven total hits (three apiece), and the team overcame four errors behind the pitching of Payton Lister to earn the hard-fought win.
“Once we hit the bottom of the sixth inning, it was a complete mood changer,” Cedar National head coach Aaron Wheelwright said. “We went from being on the ropes to a calm that said ‘we got this.’ Payton got stronger as the game went on.”
Lister, who finished with 12 strikeouts, escaped the best threat to break the deadlock from Mill Creek in the top of the sixth. Alexis Sicairos singled and Deidre Delgado walked to start the inning, but the Cedar National defense did the work to keep Washington off the board.
Heleina Ah-Loe hit into a fielder’s choice and Kalia Zellmer flied to center, then Lister struck out Avery Hare to retire the side and keep the game scoreless.
“The girls were more determined after that, more aggressive at the plate,” Wheelwright said.
With one out, Whitehair doubled to left-center and moved over to third as Lister grounded out to set up Webster’s regional-winning heroics.
And adding to the team’s motivation as the regional unfolded, Wheelwright mentioned how each team member would touch the West Regional championship banner that was inside the dining hall at the tournament site during their stay.
Call it a superstition, call it karma, but Wheelwright knew it made a difference in the team’s mindset.
“Their motivation went up tenfold,” he said. “Once Michaela crossed the plate, everyone ran out of the dugout, and it was awesome.”
Cedar National opens play at the Little League World Series in Portland, Ore., against the Southeast champion Aug. 9 at 9 p.m. All elimination games will air on ESPN2 starting Aug. 14 through the championship game Aug. 16.
A full schedule of World Series tournament games can be found at llbws.org.
Cedar National earned the right to play for the West Regional crown with three victories that included a pair of shutouts. They broke out the big bats in the early innings and shut out Gastineau Channel, Alaska, 11-0 in four innings on July 24 to qualify as the No. 2 seed behind Washington. In the quarterfinal, they held on to beat Queen Creek, Ariz., 4-2 the following day.
After an off day, Cedar National shut out No. 6 seed Pendleton, Ore., 5-0 on July 27 to advance to the title game. They scored two runs in the first and added single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth. Lister allowed only three hits and struck out six in the victory.
PHOTOS Courtesy of Aaron Wheelwright.