West Flagstaff Little League Black Diamondbacks manager Darrin Brown always had confidence in any of the kids he could toss on the mound throughout the Flagstaff majors city tournament.
The skipper said his group was a rotation of four aces, and they proved it when the team needed it most down the stretch of Black’s improbable run through the losers bracket to win the city title.
Drew Smith, the team’s top option all year, William Akens, William Carpenter and Chase Brown, the son of the skipper, all made their marks during a championship-winning stretch in the final few days of the annual tourney.
“The group of boys, in general, were a scrappy little team,” the elder Brown said. “So, the biggest hurdle was the pitching adjustments we had to make having to play additional games. I threw my son in that first game against Continental Red and he was able to give us 4 1/2 quality innings. Then Will Carpenter came in and we were able to keep him under 20 pitches to make him available the following day.
"… Honestly we caught a little bit of luck toward the end, but fortunately we had quality pitchers that were able to go deep in games and make sure they didn’t get extended outings to the point where they couldn’t pitch in a day or two.”
Brown sent his son out on the mound Monday against Continental Little League Red and he fared well, allowing two runs and two hits in a 6-2 win. The following day against WFLL Brick, the team that knocked Black into the losers bracket, Carpenter got the nod to start and helped his team get the walk-off win, 6-5, to advance to the final round of the tourney.
On Wednesday, needing two wins against undefeated WFLL Gray as the tourney was double-elimination-style, Smith pitched a gem in the first game of the afternoon, going 5 2/3 innings while allowing just one hit and striking out 12 batters to keep his team alive.
Black started Akens in the title-clinching game and he didn’t disappoint. Akens went five innings, allowing two hits and one run while striking out 10 batters, including three of the final five he faced before being pulled in the top of the sixth inning.
Nearing the end of his reliable arms, Brown called in James Pena to close out the top of the sixth in the winner-takes-all nightcap.
Pena had yet to pitch in the tournament and was sparingly used in the regular season, but took advantage of the lead the offense built to get the final three outs of the title game.
Having to run through the losers bracket never fazed Black, as they became just the second team in the tournament's history to come out of the losers bracket victorious. Before the tournament started, the went 13-1 in the regular season.
Confidence kept the leagues’s No. 1 seed in the right frame of mind even though they faced a steep challenge with the doubleheader against Gray.
“As soon as we took the field the first game, all of us felt like we were going to win that game,” Brown said. “We really took an approach that when we had our ace on the mound in Drew Smith -- who has been our ace all year -- we definitely felt like we would get that first win.”
On the offensive side of the team's run through the tournament, Carpenter always seemed to make a massive play when needed.
He was tied for the team lead in hits with Smith at seven, had the second-highest on-base percentage in the tourney at .529 and the second-best batting average at .467 as the team’s lead-off hitter.
“Will is a phenomenal athlete,” Black D-backs skipper Brown said of Carpenter. “He’s been my lead-off hitter all year and I think he batted almost .900 for the (regular) season. The kid was always on base -- his on-base percentage was tremendous. I think in the regular season there were only three total at-bats that he didn’t get on base. The kid's a leader, he’s scrappy, he puts the bat on the ball and obviously he’s fast.”
Against Brick, Akens made one of Black’s highlight plays of the tourney, going over the center-field fence for a solo home run that ignited Black’s comeback in Tuesday’s game.
With the city tournament over, Little League is now into All-Star season, which will start in the coming weeks.