Many parents with knowledge of how Little League baseball works understand what Williamsport, Pa., means.
That’s the annual site of the Little League World Series – the pinnacle of youth baseball.
The ultimate goal of all teams across the nation, even the world for that matter, is to get to Williamsport. The Coeur d’Alene All-Stars are a step closer after winning the Idaho state championship. The 12 players and three coaches boarded a plane Wednesday for less-hallowed San Bernardino, Calif., for the Northwest Regional.
The CdA team begins pool play Saturday evening when it takes on Oregon. First pitch is at 8.
The opener is followed by matchups with Montana, Alaska and Wyoming. The only team CdA doesn’t play in its pool is Washington.
The top four in the pool advance to the semifinals. That’s followed by the regional final on Aug. 10, with the winner earning a trip to Williamsport.
Last year, Post Falls sent a team that advanced to the regional final before succumbing to Oregon. CdA sent three straight teams (2000-02) with the ’02 team playing in the regional title game.
The first team from Kootenai County went to San Bernardino more than 30 years ago.
CdA lost to Post Falls in an elimination game at district last year in extra innings when 10 of the 12 boys were 11 year olds. A year older and wiser, the boys believe this could be a memorable trip.
“We’ve been looking forward to this all year long,” said Kyle Manzardo, the team’s shortstop and son of the manager, former North Idaho College coach Paul Manzardo. “We have the chance to go down there and do something special for Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We can be the first District 1 team to go to the World Series.”
His father isn’t looking any further ahead than Saturday, though. He enjoys talking about how the boys have become a team, and that they’re not a bunch of individuals. He went so far as to make sure their last names weren’t on their jerseys – a practice he had at NIC.
“The thing about this group is I’ve coached most of them since T-Ball,” Manzardo said. “They’re pretty savvy baseball players. Not only will they be able to play in high school, but they’re going to be good contributors no matter which school they go to. This won’t be the last you hear about them.”
Many of the players cited how close they came to qualifying for San Bernardino last year. So watching Post Falls play in the regional final gives the CdA players some confidence.
“We’re equally as good as Post Falls,” catcher Bridger Rinaldi said. “This same team won the 9-10 state title. So we’ve done it before.”
Zach Sensel (third base/catcher) went a step further.
“This team is better than Post Falls,” Sensel said.
Paul Manzardo has diligently played down the hype of going to San Bernardino. He wants his team to approach it like any other games.
That’s good in theory, but even 11 and 12 year olds know that the games take on more importance.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all the other teams,” right fielder Zack Mackimmie said.
“We’re the only 12 people from Idaho getting to go,” Connor Conigliaro (utility) said.
“It’s a pretty big deal. Only six teams in our region will be there,” Cody Davenport (backup catcher/outfielder) said.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” second baseman Bennett Cunningham said.
“It’s an honor to be playing there,” said pitcher/first baseman Anton Watson, who picked up CdA’s two wins in the state best-of-3 series. “We’re all going to have fun.”
Center fielder Kobe Sims put the players’ effort thus far in perspective.
“We’ve put a lot of time in for a lot of years and we finally did it,” Sims said.
Left fielder Logan Nosworthy knows how well the team can fare.
“If we play our game, we can win it,” Nosworthy said.
Since qualifying, CdA has practiced every day for 2 hours, 15 minutes – enduring some hot weather. Manzardo believes that should acclimate them well for San Bernardino, which can often sizzle in the sun.
In their next-to-last practice Monday, Manzardo had to get after his players about their focus. He understood some of the screwups considering a parent had packed their gear in a trailer and hit the road for San Bernardino.
“Wow, this isn’t our first rodeo is it?” the coach said.
Colt Rowley (utility) believes Manzardo has been the perfect coach for the team.
“He yells but he motivates us,” Rowley said. “He likes the game. He really knows his stuff.”
Brandon Gay (pitcher/outfield) and Watson are the team’s top two pitchers.
“We just need to keep working hard and keep up the teamwork,” Gay said.
CdA wants to become the first team from Idaho to go to Williamsport since a Boise team did in 1999.
“We’re happy to get to San Bernardino but I’ll be a lot happier if we get to Williamsport,” he said.