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Eastbank LL looking mighty tough in Louisiana

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Louisiana first baseman Conner Perrot prepares to toss the ball to pitcher Marshall Loque for an out at first base during a game against Minnesota earlier in the Series. Perrot, Loque and Eastbank Little League have been looking mighty tough in a state where Lake Charles and Lafayette Little Leagues usually dominate.

When the Eastbank Little League opened six years ago, Lake Charles and Lafayette, Louisiana already had made six combined Little League World Series appearances.

Those two leagues set the standard. They were the ones other leagues hoped to emulate. Nearly every season the state championship ran through Lake Charles or Lafayette.

But now the new kid on the block is looking mighty tough. It is too soon to say the guard has completely changed, but Eastbank Little League from River Ridge certainly has made this a three-league monopoly.

Reaching the Final 4 at the Little League World Series kind of drives home that point.

Eastbank romped through Louisiana and entered the Series undefeated. It won consecutive Series games after dropping its opener and already has at least matched the best finish of all Lafayette and Lake Charles teams with the exception of the 2008 Lake Charles U.S. finalists.

“We tried to emulate our program to those standards they created with Lafayette and South Lake Charles and the traditions of success they’ve had. We still do it the Eastbank way and the way the founders envisioned it, but we have learned from being beat by them and from beating them. We’re displaying we’re capable but we’re very young. We have many more years of having to maintain this before we can say we’re like Lafayette or Lake Charles, but we’re very confident these days.”

As well they should be.

Eastbank captured its first state championship two years ago before Lake Charles defeated it in last year’s state final. This particular team has flourished over the last four years and left no doubt this summer about who Louisiana’s best Little League team was.

Lafayette and Lake Charles both were again in states and Eastbank pummeled those powerhouses, shutting them out three straight times. Eastbank routed Lake Charles 14-0 in the winner’s bracket final and 16-0 in a three-inning state final. Putting and exclamation point on its romp through Louisiana, Eastbank entered the Southwest Regional, having outscored opponents, 79-0.

“We told the kids that they should have high confidence coming into regionals because they prepared so hard and worked so hard to get to that point,” Eastbank manager Scott Frazier said. “There was no reason for the confidence level not to be high.”

“Lake Charles has a tradition of making it really far and last year they made it to Waco (for regionals). They have a very, very good team and Lafayette as well,” said Eastbank league development coordinator Derek DeLatte, whose son was 13 for 18 from regionals through his first four Series games. “We beat Lake Charles this year in the state championship and when we shut them out we knew what we were really about.”

Ironically, the success Lake Charles and Lafayette have experienced so long was instrumental in Eastbank creating its Little League. While those teams were dominating and reaching Little League’s grandest stage, River Ridge players were either playing travel baseball or Dixie Youth baseball.

They were playing it quite well and Frazier coached the 2006 team to a third place U.S finish.

River Ridge is only nine miles from New Orleans so baseball talent is fertile. Combining that talent with the opportunities Little League provided seemed like the ideal marriage and Eastbank was formed.

It has not regretted anything since and is gathering momentum as each year goes by.

“The core group of this team has been together since they were 9 and we always felt this team would have a legitimate opportunity to get to the Little League World Series. We felt this was the best chance we’ve had in years of existence,” Frazier said. “That’s the goal. When you see the Little League World Series on television, it’s little kids saying, ‘I want to do this.’ This is the mecca of youth sports and it’s every boys dream to get to Little League World Series and we opened that opportunity for the kids in our area to participate in Little League.”

And what Eastbank is doing this summer likely will only increase that participation. That and what this team has done should only make the league grow stronger. The Little League World Series is now not some far-fetched dream.

This goal is something tangible, something real. The younger league players have now seen their siblings achieve it and will want to achieve even more than this team has.

That will not be easy. This is a team is that is as deep and close-knit as it is balanced and explosive. Eastbank pounded Minnesota, 10-0 in four innings as players throughout the roster made big contributions.

“All 13 guys contribute to this team. We have very interchangeable players on the roster and they all know their role,” Frazier said. “The thing about this team that is really nice, too, is this has been best behaved and well mannered team that I’ve ever coached.”

Lake Charles and Lafayette remain tremendous Little League programs. But future Eastbank players no longer have to look at those leagues for inspiration.

Eastbank is fast becoming the new state model.

“How you carry yourself in states starts laying the groundwork for the type of identity you have,” Alvarado said. “This is a testament to the hard work of the players and the talent we have and the coaches we have. Those teams are still the same premier programs, we know they are, but this was our year and this was our team.”

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