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Just 6 years into program, River Ridge finding success

Eastbank Little League celebrated its debut six years ago.

This summer it is celebrating one of the best overall seasons any Little League has ever had. A league which did not exist as late as 2013 now has produced both a Little League Baseball World Series and Little League Softball World Series team this summer.

The Eastbank Little League all-stars from River Ridge, Louisiana, are pursuing their world championship dreams here in South Williamsport, while the softball all-stars reached the world championship at last week’s World Series in Portland, Oregon. The softball team has played in two consecutive Series, reaching it last season also. What a meteoric rise it has been.

“We’ve been kind of growing over the last few years and building momentum. Every year we get better. The last two years of softball have been very special and this 12-year-old baseball team has been special,” Eastbank Director of Baseball Operations Alex Alvarado said. “It shows how talented they are and how amazing a job the coaches have done and how everyone has helped out. We have made our presence felt and showed Little League is here to stay and it’s the premier place to play youth baseball and softball.”

“We’ve only been around six years and people are still learning about us, but this is a whole other level now,” Eastbank baseball manager Scott Frazier said. “With what the softball team did, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Frazier was one of several people who helped bring Little League to River Ridge, located nine miles from New Orleans. Although the New Orleans area was loaded with rich baseball talent, most organizations were associated with Dixie Youth. Frazier coached one of those teams, helping it reach the 2006 World Series where it finished third. Still, he and others felt a switch to Little League would be beneficial and would increase exposure for the area’s players.

While excelling in travel ball and Dixie Youth was exciting, it is the Little League World Series that is nearly every aspiring young baseball player’s dream. Between the talent the area provided and the possibilities that Little League created, it seemed like an easy call.

“The Little League World Series is the Mecca of youth sports,” Frazier said. “It’s every boy’s dream to get to Little League World Series. It’s because of Little League that we’re attracting very good athletes that want to play because of the opportunities Little League offers that travel ball does not. That’s the draw and that’s why kids want to play.”

Following its 2014 debut, Eastbank made a rapid ascension. The Little League Baseball team captured state championships in 2015 and 2017, and the softball team made the ultimate breakthrough last summer. This current baseball team won state championships as 9- and 11-year-olds and did not allow a run through states three years ago. So there was a buzz surrounding it as the summer approached.

Despite facing perennial powers like Lake Charles and Lafayette, teams which have reached five combined Series, Eastbank steamrolled its way to another state championship, outscoring district and state opponents, 79-0. Eastbank then went undefeated at regionals, twice beating Midland, Texas, outscoring four opponents, 23-8, and ending Texas’s seven-year regional title reign. If there were some in New Orleans who still did not know much about Eastbank before this run, they sure do now.

“It’s a remarkable achievement for the boys and girls in the league. We have people who run it the right way and we have great coaches,” said Eastbank Development Coordinator Derek DeLatte, whose son Derek plays second base. “Success breeds success. Williamsport is a big deal so they sign up for the league because they want to make it there. These boys, since they were 9, had this dream and put in a lot of hard work to achieve this and they did it.”

They did it together with every player making a strong impact along the way. Eastbank’s depth especially showed at regionals as the substitutes often proved as dangerous as the starters. DeLatte, the team’s No. 7 hitter at regionals, went 7 for 9 in four games and substitute Will Andrade hit a crucial leadoff double to ignite the go-ahead, fifth-inning rally in the championship game. Andrade also closed out a 6-5 winners’ bracket final victory with a scoreless sixth inning.

Pick a player and both coaches and fans can point to a game in which he was the most valuable during this run.

“We’re very deep as far as the team goes. The substitutes know their roles and are really good at it,” DeLatte Sr. said. “The back of the lineup is smaller, but kids are very gritty and they know how to play the game which helps us a lot. New Orleans is baseball rich and we can play year-round. The kids train year-round so it all came together.”

Eastbank Little League has only existed for six years, but it already has achieved so much. And aspiring players seeing both the softball and baseball all-stars on television and being treated like celebrities back home can only help moving forward. As great as this season has been, the future might be even better.

For now, though, the future can wait. Look at where this league has come and where it is. This is a time to savor.

“These kids will never forget their 12-year old season and what Eastbank Little League did,” Alvorado said. “They’re the first from New Orleans to do this and they will remember this forever. We’re just so proud to have reached this point and get this opportunity. They’ll never forget these moments.”

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