All-Stars eye regional tourney

READY TO GO: The Guam Little League Major Division All-Stars will be competing in the 2019 Little League Baseball Majors Asia-Pacific Regional Tournament from June 22 to 26 in Hwaseong, Republic of Korea. Pictured, front, from left: Jace Dela Cruz, Peter Concepcion, Cayleb Castro Ricalde, Keoni Raguindin, Avian Gumataotao, Kaidan Weakley, Evan Acosta, Terrel Santos, Ean Lizama, Ernon Yamamoto, Gerson Hoebing, Troy Andrew, Koley Taitague and Ayden Aguon. Pictured, back, from left: coach Jeff Gumataotao, manager Kevin Acosta, coach Gerson Hoebing. Contributed photo

The Guam Little League Major Division All-Stars are putting the final touches on two months of training as they prepare to represent Guam at the 2019 Little League Majors Asia-Pacific Regional Tournament from June 22 to 26 in Hwaseong, Republic of Korea.

With the local Little League Major Division (12 years old and under) season closing up in early April, the Guam squad has put in countless hours on the diamond, gelling under the tutelage of manager Kevin Acosta and their coaches, Jeff Gumataotao and Gerson Hoebing.

“Definitely excited, excited for the players. Past couple months, we have been practicing and we’ve really come together as a team, we’ve come a long way,” Acosta told The Guam Daily Post.

The winner of the Asia-Pacific Regional advances to Little League Majors World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, from Aug. 15 to 25, with the majority of the international champions at the Little League World Series advancing from the Asia-Pacific region.

Defending champion South Korea is hosting the Asia-Pacific regional qualifier for the second straight year. The perennial favorite, South Korea made its all the way to the World Championship Game at the LLWS in 2018, losing 3-0 to Hawaii.

In the 2018 Asia-Pacific Regional, Guam made it to the medal round before falling 6-0 to Chinese Taipei in the semifinal. South Korea beat Chinese Taipei 6-1 in the final to advance to the LLWS and Guam lost a 7-6 nailbiter to Hong Kong in the consolation game.

The Asia-Pacific region also includes teams from CNMI, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In a deep field of teams, anything can happen, with solid pitching and timely hitting playing key roles in the weeklong grind.

“We are focused... on contact and small ball … put it in play and run the bases aggressively,” said Acosta, outlining Team Guam’s offensive strategy.

“On defense, we have to avoid the big inning. Pitchers have to pound the strike zone, minimizing walks will be big,” added Acosta, who is coaching his second off-island team.

Ayden Aguon is the lone returnee from the 2018 team, providing valuable leadership on a young, but talented roster. While he is the lone returnee, there is no shortage of experience. With many of the players having represented Guam on other off-island all-star teams, the athletes are ready for the pressure of tournament play.

“I’ve seen them grow, improve skills and develop chemistry ... they have worked hard,” credited Acosta. “We have a good vibe going into the tournament and hope to do our best.”

Acosta said he is also thankful for the community support to help cover the expenses for travel, uniforms and equipment.

“So many people helped out. I don’t want to forget anyone, but I want to give a shout out to everyone that helped,” acknowledged Acosta.