Rudy Lopez saw the future five years ago.
And boy, was it a beautiful sight. The Belmont-Redwood Shores 11-12 Majors All-Stars manager had seven or eight players at a practice, and the talent was evident.
“Right then and there,” Lopez said, “I told the kids the goal was to get to San Bernardino [the annual site of the West Region Tournament for the 11-12 age group] one day. I knew we had some special kids.”
Special indeed. Last Sunday in Roseville, BRS became the first team in District 52 history to win the Northern California Divisional championship, whipping Santa Cruz American 9-0 in the winner-take-all final to advance to the West Region Tournament.
BRS opens up pool play against Arizona state champion Chandler National South at 4 p.m. today in San Bernardino.
BRS rounds out pool play with games against Central East Maui of Hawaii on Sunday, Dixie of Utah on Monday and Southern California champion Eastlake of Chula Vista on Wednesday. All but the latter game will be televised live on ESPN3.
“We've got a bunch of low-key kids, so to get them excited is tough,” Lopez said. “Make no mistake: They're pretty excited now.”
Talent oozes from the BRS roster, as it has three pitching aces in Sean Lee, Brad Shimabuku and Nicolas Lopez, the coach's son. Shimabuku and Lopez have also led the way offensively, along with standouts Noah Marcelo, Luke Bugbee, Zach Wong and Dominic Susa.
BRS has gone 13-1 during the All-Star season, its lone defeat coming to Santa Cruz in the NorCal winner's bracket final. All BRS did from that point was run off three straight wins by a combined score of 23-1 to win the title.
Needing to beat Santa Cruz twice to secure its place in San Bernardino, BRS received two unbelievable pitching performances: A no-hitter and 12-strikeout effort from Lopez followed by a 15-strikeout, one-hit shutout from Lee. Lopez said the kids deserve all the credit.
“We practice three hours a day, there have been no days off and the kids have never complained,” Lopez said. “Actually, the boys always came to practice early and complained when we ended practice because they wanted to play more.”
Like most Little League teams that advance to the regional level, all 13 players on the BRS roster play on a traveling club team in the offseason. In addition to practicing a ton, Lopez implemented a program that strengthened the players' overall strength so they would never be overmatched again.
“We've dedicated a lot of practice time working with medicine balls to build their core strength,” Lopez said. “I remember distinctly after losing in the sectional round last year, we weren't strong enough. We're strong enough now.”
West Region Tournament
WHEN: Today to Aug. 10
WHERE: San Bernardino
WATCH: ESPN3, semifinals and finals on ESPN/ESPN2
FIRST GAME: Today, Belmont-Redwood Shores vs. Chandler National South (Arizona), 4 p.m.
AT STAKE: Winner adances to Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.