BASEBALL: Welcome to state: PN goes step further in Williamsport quest

Published 2:44 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

NEDERLAND — The Texas East state champion in Little League Baseball has represented the Southwest Region well in recent World Series.

While Port Neches has yet to begin its state championship quest, the 12-year-olds are well aware of the recent history.

“They have some teams that are very, very good,” utility player Evan Klutts said. “[Manager Bobby Chiasson] told us they’re not better than us, but we’re better than them. We just have to play hard, see what happens and hopefully we’ll get in the state championship and win state and go on to regionals.”

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Winning the Section 2 championship proved sweet redemption for a group that made it to that round as 11-year-olds but lost twice to Beaumont West End.

“It’s a great feeling,” Chiasson said. “You know, these kids have worked together since they were 7 years old for their 12-year-old All-Star season. To make it to state is a great accomplishment and a lot of excitement.”

Only 12-year-old All-Star teams can qualify for the ultimate stage in youth baseball, the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Port Neches’ 12s are making the most of their pursuit up to this point with a 7-0 record, having won four games in the District 32 tournament in Bridge City and three last week in Section 2 at Jasper.

The Texas East tournament, which produced last year’s U.S. champion and world runner-up Lufkin, should only be more challenging.

Port Neches will take on Houston Post Oak at 8 p.m. Saturday, with the winner playing either Longview Pineywoods or Sugar Land Lamar American at 8 p.m. Sunday. The tournament will use a similar double-elimination format to an NCAA regional with only four teams, but if Port Neches is unbeaten after Sunday night, the future PNG Indians will have a night off and play at 7 p.m. Tuesday for the championship. (If necessary, a second title game will start at 10 a.m. Wednesday.)

Three teams from Texas have finished third in the Little League World Series since the Southwest Region began in 2001 — Richmond Lamar National in 2004, Lubbock Western in 2007 and Pearland West in 2015. Bellaire won the 2000 U.S. title.

Lufkin’s run last year marked only the second time since 2010 a team not from Pearland made the Southwest Regional. Bridge City went in 2009, and Groves National made it in 2006.

“When we get there [to Tyler], we’ll face teams that are as good as we are,” Chiasson said. “They’re no better than us. We’ll go shake the bushes and won’t walk in intimidated. The way we’ve been playing baseball, we can definitely play with these guys.”

Port Neches has outscored the opposition 75-15, due in no small part to Klutts’ ability to close games on the mound and Fischer Einkauf’s batting.

“We consistently throw strikes and we hit our spots, and we throw what we throw and we throw it very good,” Klutts said.

Einkauf homered for the third time in all-star play in the 14-4 section final win against Channelview, driving in Gavin Bodin on a two-run shot after Bodin’s base hit reached the wall.

Einkauf now has either nine or 10 homers, counting those in league play.

“When I was younger, I wasn’t really a power hitter,” he said. “I was trying to be a contact hitter. I had a hitting coach, and he made me a better hitter with my stance and everything.”

With that, he and Klutts believe more Port Neches will have a spot in South Williamsport.

“Way more,” they said.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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