Bonsall Fallbrook Little League’s (BFLL) Juniors team, the Athletics, went 9-2 during the fall season, becoming the league’s first Juniors team to compile a winning record in many, many years.
“To my knowledge, it’s been at least 15 years since we had a winning season in Majors or Juniors,” said manager Lance McAuley, who coached the Juniors team with the help of former major league pitcher Troy Cate, a Fallbrook High School product who hurled in 14 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007.
The successful season came after a long and tough journey for the majority of the Juniors team as all but three of the 13 players on the roster have been involved in BFLL for at least five years. And many years, some players would have to “play up” (play against older kids) so BFLL could field a team.
“We had kids playing up at Majors level two years young – 9 and 10-year-olds playing with 11 and 12-year-olds,” said McAuley, who has been coaching in BFLL for eight years. “And we got ‘mercied’ every game in 2014.”
“Mercied” is a term used to describe when a team beats another team so bad the Mercy Rule is evoked. The Mercy Rule, or 10-run run, calls to end the game if the winning team is ahead by 10 runs or more after four innings (3 1/2 innings if the home team is ahead).
Things slowly but surely improved for the BFLL boys.
“The second year, 2015, we got two wins,” said McAuley. “And in spring ball 2016 we got seven wins and a couple ties, and that was a big deal for BFLL.”
Though they managed seven wins in the spring, it still didn’t translate to a winning record as there were also a dozen defeats. But the taste of several victories obviously agreed with the boys as they came back in the fall to compile a 9-2 mark while competing in a four-team league consisting of BFLL, Oceanside American, Oceanside Valley and Vista American.
“We swept Oceanside Valley and we swept Vista American,” said McAuley, who added that his squad even ‘mercied’ some teams but celebrated those victories respectfully “because our kids remember when the shoe was on the other foot.”
The Juniors team went 1-2 against the top team in the fall league, Oceanside American, and were the only team to defeat that squad. BFLL edged Oceanside American in a 4-3 thriller.
“It was seven tense innings,” said McAuley of the victory. “Our entire team fought tough every play, every pitch for 2 1/2 hours.”
The Juniors team excelled in the fall while again fielding some younger players.
“We actually had to play four seventh-graders, and this Juniors level is usually eighth and ninth graders,” said McAuley. “We played four seventh-graders so that we would have enough players to make up a team.”
McAuley said a small player pool to draw from is consistently a problem and that is why he wishes BFLL and Fallbrook Youth Baseball would merge.
“I absolutely wish the two organizations would come together,” said McAuley. “We’re not big enough to have two little leagues. Our area, we get about 180 to 200 kids, and Fallbrook Youth gets 200 to 250. Every other little league – Rancho Buena Vista, Vista, Oceanside – everybody else is in the 700 to 900 range. And so, if we combined, we’d be at least near 500. It would be too bad not to see them merge sooner or later.”
Looking back at the fall campaign, McAuley said a “total team effort” was responsible for the success.
“You have the superior athletes – the bigger, stronger guys – but even the smaller, younger players would get a hit, steal a base, would make a hard fielding play in the infield, or a fine catch in the outfield,” said McAuley. “I can’t say we really had any voids. We were strong defensively, offensively, and had speed on the bases And we were pretty consistent. Even the batting order – we didn’t give the (opposing) pitchers a break. There was someone up there ready to hit the ball every at bat.”