Two local high school baseball players assisted the U14 Northern California Baseball team out of Dublin to a perfect 8-0 record in last week’s Travel Ball Select National Championship in East Cobb, Georgia to win the grand finale against the number one team in the nation in the 14-age group.
With the help of Turlock’s Tate Soderstrom and Pitman’s Nick Jones, the Nor Cal U14 team was able to topple over their opponents in tight games leading to the final and when it was all said and done, Soderstrom would win Most Valuable Player honors.
Jones would be named the winning pitcher of the final contest against East Cobb to help their team make history with a 9-1 win in the final that sent the Nor Cal squad into the record and history books.
No team had ever beaten the East Cobb squad out of Georgia, let alone on their home field and on the grand stage. After a superb run by the 14-year-olds from California that included sweeping through the preliminary pool by winning four straight, the Nor Cal squad squeezed by with game crunching wins leading to the final.
“This was a total team effort, one time of the year that this could happen,” said head coach Brian Market. “Each and every kid had a big moment to get us here. If it weren’t for our kids we couldn’t have been here. They all did something along the way and if it wasn’t for that at that time we wouldn’t have been where we were.”
Heading into the tournament, there were 32 teams, with the Nor Cal squad ranked dead last, but that didn’t stop the Cinderella story, but rather drove the team to push forward and rewrite the history books.
With the team that is made up of 19 players, 18 were able to make it to the tournament in Georgia. The team is made up of players from as far north as Sacramento, and even the coastal areas like San Jose and Morgan Hill.
“We have guys from all over, but one thing different from this to others is that we practice together a lot, and it’s hard, but we tried to get a field in every region and made it easier,” said Market. “Almost every practice we had at least 16 guys. They were a committed bunch. This team had a lot of chemistry going in they are like a brotherhood and really get along, they all stick together.”
The team won most of their games by mercy-rule victory. The Nor Cal squad managed to outscore opponents 35-1 in the span.
“Our pitchers did a great job and we got everyone involved as well leading up to that,” Market said. “We knew we had a lot to do still, our team had been confident a lot and we talk about confidence but also put in hard work.”
With the help of assistant coach Steve Soderstrom, former San Francisco Giants player and Turlock High graduate, the team’s pitching proved to be very consistent and efficient.
After moving out of pool play with a 4-0 record, the Nor Cal squad managed to get the first seed of the winner’s bracket and would win the first game against Chico where the team went down 4-0 early on, but an eight-run inning gave them a 12-4 mercy-rule win after the fifth inning.
The Nor Cal squad would then move on to face Mac N Seitz where they pulled out another mercy-rule win, toppling out the squad with a score of 10-2 and finally earning a berth into the semifinal matchup with East Cobb.
In the first meeting, East Cobb jumped out to a 2-0 lead heading into the fifth, then the score was cut to 2-1 heading into the sixth.
Tate Soderstrom followed with a two-run single to first base as the ball trickled to the outfield. The Turlock Bulldog would make the score 3-2, but after an error at home plate the Nor Cal squad made the score 4-2 and held on the win and secured their berth into the championship game.
The title game was packed with nearly 400 fans present to watch the local East Cobb perhaps make a third consecutive title run, but they would leave disappointed after the 14-year-old team from Dublin shocked the locals and baseball fans.
“At this point we just had one game only and we knew we had our work cut out and we had our ace throwing as well,” Market said.
Jones of Pitman would be the starter for the Nor Cal squad and would get the win after tossing up three innings, allowing only one run and striking out three with one walk.
Jones kept the opposing batters’ guessing with his off speed pitches and was able to locate the strike zone easier than most with fluid movement in his pitches.
A 3-0 lead after the first inning was enough but a 9-1 score in the fifth inning caused a mercy-rule win for the Nor Cal team.
“Our kids are good at adjusting and by second or third at bat the kids know what to do,” Market said. “It’s a big relief because I knew this team plays with more heart, dedication than anybody and I knew if we played to our best ability we could accomplish a lot. I also had a great staff with us as well, and working with former pro players helped as well.”