Austin Paretti has to be one tough kid. He stands 5-foot-0, the shortest player on a team that features the imposing figure of 6-foot-3 Bradley "The Big Cat" Smith.
Paretti, a catcher, represents the toughness of the entire Petaluma National Little League all-star team that began its journey with a 14-0 victory over Santa Rosa American on June 30.
"It's just been amazing," Paretti said. "It's just so exciting to play with teams from all around and now we're in the same position. It's really awesome."
In Williamsport, Pa., where Petaluma prepares for its second game of the Little League World Series this Sunday, the guys are known simply as "Team West" and have earned the support of so many locals that the "West" T-shirt has become one of the hottest sellers at the tournament.
The Nationals, who became the first Petaluma team ever to advance to the Northern California Regional, have survived heat, humidity and the now legendary seven-run deficit to San Ramon.
After 25 games, Petaluma has found its identity in players like Paretti and The Big Cat. Call it toughness, but it's more than that, which is way throngs of people will once again flood into places like Taps, Beyond the Glory and the already sold out Boulevard Cinemas on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. to watch their young heroes take on an all-star team from Goodlettsville, Tennessee.
Perhaps they take their cue from coach Eric Smith, a firm and supportive man who pays attention to details.
"We have enough experience now, played enough baseball, that we can walk out on a field and be able to play baseball," Smith said. "We don't show a lot of nerves. The only time we looked nervous was when we were ahead one game, 10-0, and we made some mistakes."
Petaluma spent part of its time preparing for its first game by dancing with the Little League World Series mascot, "Dugout."
With a day or two off before playing Tennessee, the team hopes to relax a little bit more.
"We do want to enjoy ourselves and take in the experience," coach Smith said. "We'll hit a little bit, watch a few games and maybe check out the museum."
Tennessee advanced into the second round with a 12-1 victory over Nebraska on Thursday. The Southwest representative took a 5-0 lead into the sixth before tacking on seven more.
Goodlettsville is similar to Petaluma in that the team has a lot of power and a good offense. They hit four home runs against Nebraska.
Brock Myers is Tennessee's version of The Big Cat. He pitched a one-hitter over 4 2/3 innings and was 3 for 4, scoring three runs and driving in two. He has not allowed a run over his last 14 innings, giving up just two hits. He's also hitting .500 (9 for 18) over his last six games.
Cole Carter is another quality pitcher and hitter for Tennessee, carrying a batting average over .450. Jack Rucker and Luke Brown also pitch for the southwest squad.
Looking over Petaluma's run of success, one can find different players coming through in the clutch. The team has gotten great efforts from everybody.
"You can't be nervous in these games. You're one of the top 16 teams (out of 4,441) in the world," player Smith said.
In addition to Bradley Smith and Paretti, the roster includes Porter Slate, Logan Douglas, Danny Marzo, Kempton Brandis, Hance Smith, Quentin Gago, Blake Buhrer, Andrew White, James O'Hanlon, Dylan Moore and Cole Tomei.
"We can start a rally from anywhere in the order," coach Smith said. "The pitchers came through in clutch situations. (Andrew) is a quality pitcher who can handle himself out there."
Also a quality that seems to run throughout the team.
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