One pitch. First inning. Leadoff batter. That was the difference for Sunnyside not reaching the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa., in 1984.
Las Gatos, representing Northern California, beat Sunnyside 1-0 on a home run by its leadoff batter in the first inning of the 1984 West Regional championship at San Bernardino, Calif. Sunnyside starter Larry Marchbanks was nearly unstoppable otherwise, allowing three other hits with 10 strikeouts and a walk.
Sunnyside could not cash in after loading the bases in the sixth inning against Ryan Lotz, who struck out 16 and allowed only two hits. Sunnyside’s last batter struck out after Steve “Beaver” Galvez (three home runs in the regionals) was intentionally walked to load the bases.
“We made one mistake and their pitcher (Lotz) didn’t make any mistakes,” Sunnyside manager Sam Rosthenhausler told the San Bernardino County Sun. “That’s what it takes. … It’s so close and yet so far.”
Thirty-five years later, Sunnyside gets another shot at a Little League World Series berth this week, starting Monday with an opening-round regional game at San Bernardino.
The southside organization also advanced to the West Regionals last year and in 1991 and 1979, but those teams did not reach the championship game.
“Our project and our goal has been Williamsport,” Sunnyside manager Frank Rivero said. “The kids have not stopped. I mean, like I told everybody, this is a huge sacrifice for the boys because there’s no vacation for all of them during the summer. They have sacrificed family trips, pools, parties … they are used to being on the field working hard.”
Rivero said this after working his team through two hours of drills and another two hours in an intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday night at Mission Manor Park. In the midst of it all, a monsoon storm poured a steady rain on the field with lightning far off in the distance. By the time the lights were turned off at the neighborhood park, following the four-hour-plus practice, it was after 10:30 p.m.
And it was not one of the team’s longest workouts.
“For the first month, we ran over 10 laps a day (around the field). … Half of us don’t leave until about 11 (p.m.),” Sunnyside pitcher/third baseman Izaiah Moraga said. “We’re just used to any type of weather now.”
Rivero’s son, Francisco, a quality shortstop who can also pitch and play catcher, added with a sense of pride, “Every Saturday and Sunday … we have no days off, working four or five hours every practice.”
The elder Rivero has mentioned he subscribes to this theory: “If a coach does not push you to the limit, he is cheating you.”
The path to Williamsport is a difficult one and requires such diligence.
Only two teams from Tucson have managed to go that far since the 1950’s and they both reached the final game (each losing to Taiwan by a score of 12-0) — Cactus Little League in 1973 with future major league pitcher Ed Vosberg and International Little League in 1986 that featured future PGA golfer Rich Barcelo and sixth-round draft pick Danny Fregoso of the Baltimore Orioles in 1991.
“We’re past Stage One (district tournament) and Stage Two (state tournament). This is going to be the hardest one (at the regionals),” said the elder Rivero, who is from the baseball-rich area of Barquisimeto, Venezuela. “It’s been a while since a Tucson team has been in the Little League World Series, but I think we are going to be that team this year.”
Sunnyside’s trip to San Bernardino last year ended with losses in its first two games to Hawaii (the eventual Little League World Series champions) and Southern California.
The younger Rivero and third baseman/pitcher Damian Lorta are making the return trip to San Bernardino with Sunnyside.
Lorta is hitting the ball at an unbelievable .700 clip — 14 hits in 20 at-bats — with three home runs, 10 RBIs and a team-high 16 runs in Sunnyside’s 8-0 showing in the district and state tournaments. He has also not allowed an earned run in 11 2/3 innings as a pitcher with 24 strikeouts and only two walks.
His confidence is infectious.
I asked him what he is looking forward to the most traveling to California. He said, “Winning.”
When asked what he likes to do more, pitching or hitting, Lorta answered, “Doing my job. … Do what the coaches ask me to do.”
Francisco Rivero has also not allowed an earned run in his nine innings. He has 13 strikeouts and only two walks.
Two other players — catcher Jordan Mayboca (team-best 16 RBIs) and left fielder Jorge Zazueta — also have three home runs.
Moraga is a nephew of former Sunnyside High School and Arizona standout Omar Moraga. His father Ernest, an assistant on the team, excelled with Sunnyside Little League in the late 1990’s and at the high school level at Sunnyside before continuing his career at South Mountain Community College and Wayland Baptist.
The younger Moraga, who stands at about 6 feet despite being only in the seventh grade, has a 0.78 ERA with 12 strikeouts and four walks in 7 2/3 innings.
The elder Rivero and his staff can also call on Juan Hernandez (1.74 ERA in seven innings with 14 strikeouts and two walks) to be a starter. Quality pitching depth, power hitting balanced with timely, effective batting, and solid defense because of the extensive practice sessions, makes Sunnyside a serious threat to win the three or four games at San Bernardino necessary to make it to Williamsport.
“We have the team this year,” the elder Rivero said. “We have a lot of kids with talent. They’ve been working hard for a long time.
“I’ve been telling them this is the time of year when they could be playing their last tournament of the year. That’s when you show your best.”
The Sunnyside Major Little League team is 8-0, capturing the district and state titles en route to the West Regional, which starts Sunday at San Bernardino, Calif. Sunnyside’s first game is Monday at 4 p.m. against Sunday night’s winner between Hawaii and Southern California. Sunnyside has outscored the opposition 88-9 in its eight games this summer with mercy-rule wins in five of those games. Here is the Sunnyside roster:
Arizona Little League World Series Teams
Six teams from Arizona have made it all the way to the Little League World Series since South Mountain broke through in 1965. Of the six, only two teams have made it to the championship game and both were from Tucson: Cactus (1973) and Tucson International (1986). Sunnyside (1984) and Sahuaro (1963) made it to the West Regional finals, a game from reaching Williamsport, but lost.
ARIZONA STATE CHAMPIONS FROM SOUTHERN ARIZONA
2011: Rio Rico
2001: San Xavier
1996: Santa Rita
1986: International (LLWS Runner-up)
1973: Cactus (LLWS Runner-up)
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.