By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
With all due respect to the Dodgers, Rams, Sparks and Galaxy, the hottest team in town is a group of youngsters from the South Bay.
The all-stars of Torrance Little League arrived in Willamsport, Penn. over the weekend, after earning a spot in the 2021 Little League World Series.
The boys booked their ticket to youth baseball’s promised land with a 6-0 victory over the team from Petaluma on Friday, at the West Regional semifinal in San Bernardino.
Although Torrance lost to Honolulu in the regional championship on Saturday, both teams had already secured their spots in the 16-team tournament in Williamsport.
Torrance is the first team to represent Los Angeles County at the Little League World Series since Northridge carried the banner in 1994.
Torrance will represent California when they open play against New Hampshire at 4 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday. Hawaii will play earlier the same day, 10 a.m. against Connecticut.
“It’s surreal, amazing when you think about it,” said Stephanie Nuruki, whose son is Torrance catcher Andrew Nuruki. “You always hope they do well, but you never imagine they will go this far.”
Pitcher Gibson Turner’s mother, Wendy, said it’s no fluke this team has earned a spot in arguably this country’s most revered youth sports event.
“They worked so hard to get where they are,” she explained. “They lost their first game at the beginning of the earlier rounds, so they needed to win seven in a row. It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”
Several parents said they spent the weekend booking flights and hotels to attend the games in Pennsylvania, where only familes and team staff are being allowed. Because of COVID-related travel restrictions, only domestic teams will compete in the tournament this year, so the international championship will not happen.
“The boys are having a blast; it’s been harder on the parents because of COVID,” Nuruki said, adding that they have been separated from their kids for almost two weeks.
Shane Harrison agreed the entire process has been nerve-wracking for the parents, yet priceless for the players.
“The road to get here has been crazy,” said Harrison, whose son, Kaishu, plays first base on the team. “The boys are out there having fun. They get knocked down, but they seem to find a way to win.”
Harrison reflected on the path taken by the team, many of who started playing together at the T-ball level. For most of the boys, this is their last year of Little League eligibility.
“This is it, a loss and Little League is done,” he said. “Some will go on to play in high school and beyond, but for little kid sports, this is where it ends. You begin to wonder if this my son’s last at-bat in Little League.”
While the parents are riding a roller coaster of emotions, by all indications, the boys are having a great time.
“They’re getting to meet boys from other states, and they roomed with the kids from Hawaii,” Turner said, describing how teams have been in a protective bubble throughout the tournaments.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, really priceless for them,” she added.
Harrison said he has coached his son in the past, but at this point, the boys have learned so much that there isn’t much for him to say. For now, the best he can do is to help his wife, Yoko, make new leis for all the team members.
“Very few people ever get to do this,” he said. “You just can’t buy this experience.”