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Little league action starts today

by Chuck Smock

It’s called “The Road to Williamsport.” And the journey starts this week.

All around the country – and the world -11- and 12-year-old baseball players are competing in the first round of a series of tournaments that will eventually reward the survivors with the coveted berths at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

The District 1 tournament starts today with opening ceremonies at Aspen Park at noon. First-round games are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Carson Valley’s “Major” all-stars will play their first game Sunday at 5 p.m. at Aspen Park against the winner of North Tahoe vs. Truckee game.

The double-elimination tournament will crown its champion next weekend.

“Our chances are as good as any,” Carson Valley manager John Mannelly said. “This is the tournament all the kids shoot for. This is the one that goes to Williamsport. This is a stepping stone. It all starts right here for all the teams all over the country.”

The Carson Valley squad is made up of 13 players, ages 11 and 12. Mannelly and his assistant coaches, Gary Davis and John Brower, have been working with the team for three weeks.

“They’ve really come together as a team,” Mannelly said Wednesday. “They play against each other all year long, and they’re pretty much buddies through the course of the season anyway, but now they get to work as a unit. The camaraderie is real good. They all pick each other up.”

Versatility will be a key for the Carson Valley squad. All of the players can play more than one position defensively and they all understand the importance of playing as a unit.

“This is a team that doesn’t have one big standout kid, and I think they all realize that,” Mannelly said. “We’re not going in thinking we have two pitchers who are going to run through the tournament. We’re going to use the whole staff. We’re going to be using four or five pitchers. They realize, individually, it’s not up to them to get us through a game or two.”

Jeff Young (catcher, shortstop, pitcher), Ben Brower (outfield, first base, pitcher) and Darren Brady (pitcher, centerfielder) are among the older players on the team who will be looked to for leadership.

Outfielders Cody McGeein and Justin Rickey are also big 12-year-olds who can hit with power.

Derek Shoaf (pitcher, outfielder) and catcher Willie Morgan are expected to play key roles.

Carson Valley will be solid at the corners with third baseman Rachelle Boucher and first baseman Tommy O’Brien.

Boucher is the lone female on the squad. She has a good glove, strong arm, hits in the middle of the lineup and may be called on to pitch.

Mannelly said he has a habit of referring to the group as “guys” or “boys,” but added that he told Boucher from the beginning of practice that he considers her to be an important part of the team.

“These boys respect her as much as any of the other kids on the team,” Mannelly said.

Shortstop Roman Davis, second baseman Philip Mannelly, first baseman Ryan Bertucci and Reese Kizer, who can play infield, outfield and can pitch, round out the talented Carson Valley roster.

“By the time Sunday roles around, they’ll be ready to play,” assistant coach John Brower said Wednesday. “They’re ready right now. We have a lot of players who can play several different players, so that makes it nice from a coaching standpoint.

“I hope that the Carson Valley comes out and shows their support. We’d like to see a good fan turnout. I think they’ll be proud of the team Carson Valley puts on the field, and they can expect to see some good baseball.”