Little League Baseball

Sunnyside’s district title celebration includes 2019 team that came close to LLWS

Sunnyside’s District 12 champs with members of the 2019 team that advanced to the West Region championship (Javier Morales/

Sunnyside’s Little League lore met its present team on Monday night at Field of Dreams.

Sunnyside is one of the most accomplished Little League organizations locally twice reaching the West Regional championship — one game from the Little League World Series — in 1984 and 2019. Sunnyside, based on the southside of Tucson, also advanced to the West Regionals in 1979, 1991 and 2018.

Seven players from the 2019 Sunnyside Majors team that captured the attention and support of Tucson during its deep run toward Williamsport, Pa., were on hand at Field of Dreams to support this year’s team in the District 12 title game with Rincon.

Izaiah Moraga, Damian Lorta, Juan Abril, Aciel Guillen, Juan Hernandez, Jordan Mayboca and Jorge Zazueta stood behind Sunnyside after the 9-4 win over Rincon while the champs of today held the District 12 championship banner.

“We wanted to be here to support these guys,” said Moraga, a Salpointe-bound pitcher/infielder whose home run along with Michel Muñiz Jr.’s game-winning hit on ESPN two years ago put Sunnyside into the West Regional championship.

The brothers of Damian and Jorge — Ezequiel Lorta and Luis Zazueta — are on the current team managed by Gabe Garcia.

Sunnyside is headed to the Majors state tournament after claiming the District 12 championship (Andy Morales/

Whereas the 2019 team overpowered some of its opponents, Garcia’s team continuously finds ways to win.

It had to beat Rincon twice from the elimination bracket to qualify for the state tournament, which begins Friday at the Tempe Sports Complex (see schedule below). Oro Valley (District 5 champions) and Nogales (District 8 champs) are also in the state tournament.

Sunnyside made it to the District 12 championship round against Rincon behind Josue Espinoza’s walk-off home run against Empire in the elimination-bracket final, capping the comeback rally in the sixth. In the first game against Rincon on Friday, Sunnyside rallied from two runs down in the sixth to force extra innings and eventually won 3-2 in the eighth.

“Even when we get down, I always have belief in my team, like we’re going to win” said Garcia, who labeled his team the “Cardiac Kids.” “I always tell the team, ‘Don’t get down on yourselves. I know we’re going to win,’ and they always come through for me.”

Members of Sunnyside’s 2019 District 12 and state championship team now and a look at them from two years ago (Javier Morales/ photos)

The final game against Rincon was stretched over three days after the initially scheduled game Saturday was delayed in the second inning because of inclement weather.

The game resumed Monday night in the second inning with Sunnyside leading 5-1 after it already rallied for five runs that inning. Sunnyside also had the bases loaded with no outs and starting pitcher Diego Garcia (the coach’s son) was at the plate with a 2-0 count.

“If we can keep the hitting up — like my dad said we’re going to give him a heart attack if we keep coming back in the last inning — if we get those hits (in the early innings), we’ll be fine,” Diego said.

Diego walked with the bases loaded to force in the sixth run of the inning. Sunnyside finished with eight runs on eight hits and sent 13 batters to the plate in the second to lead 8-1, which proved to be all the runs it needed.

Diego was pulled after the third inning because of discomfort in his right (pitching) shoulder. He was the winning pitcher not allowing a hit or an earned run while striking out three and walking three in his three innings.

“My shoulder’s fine,” he said. “It’s just in the second inning I got really frustrated with myself because I wasn’t doing my part and I was throwing really hard and I outthrew myself. I can see the potential I have now if I don’t rush myself.”

After Espinoza belted a home run in the fourth to give Sunnyside a 9-1 lead, Rincon’s Israel Hernandez, clearly the best defensive shortstop of the District 12 tournament, started a three-run rally in the fifth.

Josue Espinoza is greeted at the plate after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning (Andy Morales/

Hernandez hit a double with one out. Anthony Kasmar walked and Carlos Davila, another of Rincon’s standouts in the tournament, hit a single that scored Hernandez.

Tristan Cruz, who was 2 for 2, then singled to load the bases with Kasmar at third and Davila at second. Kasmar scored on a wild pitch and with two outs, and John Nyman capped the rally with a single that scored Davila to cut the lead to 9-4.

Espinoza, who relieved Diego Garcia in the fourth, retired four of the last five batters he faced, including two by strike out. He finished with five strikeouts and two walks in three innings.

Josue Espinoza can be dominant at the plate and on the mound for Sunnyside (Andy Morales/

“I get to come out here and play with my friends, we do good and we’re all happy,” said Espinoza, who along with many of his current teammates made the District 12 championship in the 8-9-10 age group two years ago but lost to Rincon.

Diego said coming up short two years ago, when Sunnyside’s majors team was making history going to the West Regional championship, was “very unfortunate.”

“This win is going to help us win a state championship,” he said. “There’s momentum from this game. Everybody hitting, that helped us with Espi’s home run — we call him Espi … Espinoza — that’s really going to help us.”

Diego Garcia pitched three solid innings to help set the tone against Rincon (Andy Morales/

Standouts for Sunnyside in the championship game against Rincon included Ezequiel Lorta (2 for 3 with a run, double and RBI), Espinoza (3 for 3 with two runs, home run and two RBIs), Jayden Guadarrama (1 for 2 with a run), Luis Zazueta (1 for 2 with a run and RBI), and Santos Lopez and Eli Urias (each of whom had an RBI single and run).


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 2019) and Sahuaro (1963) made it to the West Regional finals, a game from reaching Williamsport.

2019: Sunnyside
2018: Sunnyside
2012: Rincon
2011: Rio Rico
2001: San Xavier
2000: CDO
1997: American
1996: Santa Rita
1992: Western
1991: Sunnyside
1988: Nogales
1987: Nogales
1986: International (LLWS Runner-up)
1985: Nogales
1984: Sunnyside
1983: American
1981: Western
1980: Nogales
1979: Sunnyside
1978: Nogales
1975: Douglas
1974: Cactus
1973: Cactus (LLWS Runner-up)
1971: Pantano
1968: Sahuaro
1966: Douglas
1964: Western
1963: Sahuaro
1960: Cactus
1959: American

Legendary umpire Bob Hall has the experience of working home plate for the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa., in 1996 (Andy Morales/

Majors (11-12)
Tempe Sports Complex

e-elimination bracket game

Friday, July 16
G1: Lake Havasu vs. Oro Valley, 6 p.m.
G2: Nogales vs. Anthem High Desert, 6 p.m.
G3: Casa Grande vs. Queen Creek,6 p.m.
G4: Sunnyside vs. Chino Valley, 8 p.m.
G5: Mesa Red Mountain vs. Claypool Pinal Mountain, 8 p.m.
G6: West Flagstaff vs. Chandler National, 8 p.m.

Saturday, July 17
G7: G1 winner vs. Phoenix Arcadia, 6 p.m.
G8: G2 winner vs. G3 winner, 8 p.m.
G9: G4 winner vs. G5 winner, 6 p.m.
G10: G6 winner vs. Goodyear, 8 p.m.
e-G11: G4 loser vs. G5 loser, 6 p.m.
e-G12: G2 loser vs. G3 loser, 8 p.m.

Sunday, July 18
e-G13: G6 loser vs. G8 loser, 6 p.m.
e-G14: G1 loser vs. G9 loser, 8 p.m.
e-G15: G11 winner vs. G7 loser, 8 p.m.
e-G16: G12 winner vs. G10 loser, 6 p.m.

Tuesday, July 20
G17: G7 winner vs. G8 winner, 6 p.m.
G18: G9 winner vs. G10 winner, 8 p.m.
e-G19: G13 winner vs. G15 winner, 8 p.m.
e-G20: G14 winner vs. G16 winner, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, July 21
e-G22: G20 winner vs. G17 loser, 8 p.m.
e-G23: G19 winner vs. G18 loser, 6 p.m.

Thursday, July 22
G21: G17 winner vs. G18 winner, 6 p.m.
e-G24: G22 winner vs. G23 winner, 8 p.m.

Friday, July 23
G25: G24 winner vs. G21 loser, 7 p.m.

Saturday, July 24
G26: Championship — G21 winner vs. G25 winner, 7 p.m.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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