All Stars bypass state games
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Jake Strack Loertscher sang loudly and cracked jokes while shagging balls from shortstop and third base at a Tuesday baseball practice.The lanky 14-year-old – who stands 6-foot-2 – said he does his best to keep things light for the Three Rivers Little League Junior All-Stars. After all, the team won’t take the field for a game for another two weeks.”There are times to be serious, and there are times you can joke around,” Strack Loertscher, a catcher from Carbondale, said after practice. He insisted the goofy atmosphere will morph into something more serious as game time approaches.And what’s next for these Three Rivers teens came unexpectedly.
After becoming the first Three Rivers team since 2003 to win the District 1 Tournament, this collection of Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Basalt’s top Little Leaguers on Monday learned they were free to bypass the July 22-28 state tournament in Breckenridge and head straight to the Aug. 2-9 Southwest regional in Grand Junction.That means playing against teams from Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The winner earns a trip to the Junior Boys Baseball World Series in Taylor, Mich.Once every eight years, Colorado hosts the regional. And, because District 1’s Grand Mesa Little League is this year’s chosen host, Little League wanted the district winner – Three Rivers – to receive an automatic regional berth, so that two teams from Colorado would be represented. Other district winners will still battle it out for a regional berth starting this weekend.”This is the farthest anyone (from Three Rivers) has been,” said Laurel Lamont, the TRLL board president. “It’s amazing. Every eight years Colorado hosts the tournament, and it just happens to be District 1.”
Win or lose, the Three Rivers stars appear to fully grasp the magnitude of what’s ahead.”My whole life, I’ll remember this,” said Lamont Gross, a 14-year-old outfielder from Carbondale. “I’ll remember that we played with some of the best teams in the country. It’s great, coming out of Western Colorado. We just get to show the world that we’re something.”It’s not often TRLL assembles a squad capable of knocking off District 1 powerhouses like Grand Mesa or Monument. Three Rivers knocked off Grand Mesa 11-2 on Friday to take the coveted district crown, just a night after losing 11-0 to the very same Grand Mesa team in the double-elimination tournament.
Emerging on the losing end of the previous night’s blowout served as wakeup call of sorts.”I think we were too overconfident when we played Mesa,” said 14-year-old Jordan Hirro, a pitcher/third baseman from Carbondale. “We all knew Grand Mesa was a really good team, so we focused on beating them once we got to the final game.”Three Rivers will next graduate from playing the best of the Western Slope to facing the best of the entire Southwest, which will include two teams from warm-weather Texas, a state where baseball thrives.”It’s gonna be hard, I’m not gonna lie,” said Alex Rascon, a 14-year-old from Carbondale. “We’re probably going to see a lot of kids bigger than Jake there.”
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