By Rob Tota
Whalley Little League from Surrey, British Columbia, is no stranger to the Little League Baseball® World Series, representing Canada in Williamsport for the sixth time.
After posting a 6-4 victory over Mexico Region Champion Matamoros Little League Monday night, Team Canada improved its LLBWS record to 2-1 and securing a spot in International semifinal. In what turned out to be a nail-biter, pitcher Nate Colina escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the sixth inning to lock down the victory.
“It was everything you want in a last-inning really,” said Canada Manager Mike Marino. “I was relieved when it was over though.”
Mr. Marino credits much of his team’s success to their family-like bond, something he worked to create at the start of the season. Coming from an Italian background, Marino said he grew up under a family-first mentality and wanted to bring that to his team.
“I said it at the beginning of the season, we’re going to treat it like family,” he said. “It’s family first for everything and this is our family now.”
While this mindset helped to create a cohesive and successful baseball team, Marino added the close relationships they have formed with one another extend off the field.
“For the last month and a bit, we’ve do everything together like a family would,” he added. “It’s pretty cool to see.”
Among this tight-knit group of players are team leaders, each of whom have their own styles of leadership.
“There’s a couple that lead by example, there’s a couple that lead with their voices,” Marino said, “It all kind of meshes together.”
One of these leaders by example is Ian Huang, who is one of the team’s top pitchers and hits in the heart of the lineup. Huang was the star of the LLB Canadian Region Tournament, hitting .550 with a home run in the tournament’s eight games, while also picking up two shutout victories on the mound. The latter of these wins was in the region championship game, an 11-0 win over Glacier Bay Little League.
Huang struggled on the mound in his first start against Panama, but managed to bounce back on Monday, giving up just two earned runs in four-plus innings pitched.
“Like a lot of the kids, he’s a hard worker,” Marino said on Huang. “He’s a student of the game, and a special talent we believe.”
With the win on Monday, Canada will take on Puerto Rico for a chance to play in the International Championship game. While Marino recognized that this would be a tough matchup, he’s confident that his team will maintain the momentum their last two wins have given them.
“They’re (Puerto Rico) going to be good, we just need to keep doing what we’re doing,” he remarked. “We’re getting great pitching right now, and our defense is as good as anyone.”
Run production will be the team’s primary objective going into the game, as Marino says that’s the one aspect to their game that the team will need to step up.
“Our hitting is getting better with every game,” he said. “If we start hitting the ball even a bit better than we did last game, I think we’ll be okay.”
The Canada-Latin America game is scheduled for Lamade Stadium at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.