Runners-up no more.
A year after settling for second place, the San Carlos 11-12-year-old Little League All-Stars claimed the District 18 championship behind shutout pitching from Ryan Withstandley and Kyle Miller.
Zac Culvahouse and Dustin Sorenson provided the offensive clout as San Carlos knocked off Golden Gate National, 3-0, on Friday night at Three Oaks Community Park.
Those involved in the San Carlos program believe it is the league's first-ever district title in 11-12s.
For Culvahouse, Withstandley, Connor Grevel, Kyle Miller and Chandler Nemitz, claiming the championship banner couldn't have come at a better time. They are the remaining parts to last year's bridesmaid squad that lost the title game by one run against Greater Naples.
"I told these five kids, 'hey, let's finish this from last year and win this thing,'" said San Carlos manager Troy Withstandley.
Coming off a semi-final in which he struck out three times, Culvahouse rebounded with a memorable night, notching two of the team's five hits.
In the top of the third, Collin Martin drew a one-out walk and was sacrificed to second by Cole Baxter. Martin advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored the game's first run when Culvahouse — after fouling off a trio of two-strike pitches — laced a single up the middle.
"My coach told me a curve ball was supposed to come, so I waited for it and drove it down the middle," said Culvahouse.
Witstandley said his players practice two-strike drills where contact is crucial.
"He didn't take a full swing. He just made contact and poked it up the middle," said Withstandley.
Culvahouse's solid at-bat was characteristic of the way San Carlos swung all night. In fact, Culvahouse and No. 2 batter Kyle Miller each went after first pitches from Chris Robinson to start the game. Both grounded out, but it sent an early message that there would be no splinters on the shoulders of San Carlos batters.
San Carlos maintained their slim lead until the sixth when they scored a pair of insurance runs. Baxter led off with a first pitch single. Two outs later, Sorenson reached for a high, outside pitch and sent the ball deep over the right field fence for his first career home run.
"We try to go to the opposite field against stronger pitchers," said Withstandley. "He got all of it. As soon he hit it, I knew it was out."
Unlike some Major Leaguers who like to stare at their home runs before rounding the bases, Sorenson did what any good Little Leaguer would: run as hard as he could, not sure if the ball would make it out.
"I didn't look at the ball. I just ran to first," said Sorenson. "I realized it was a home run when I heard everybody screaming."
Needless to say, Miller, on in relief of Withstandley, was glad to be sitting on a cozy three-run cushion.
"That took the pressure off me," said Miller.
Both Miller and starter Withstandley kept a strong hitting team from getting on track. Teammates on the Braves during the regular season, Miller and Withstandley combined for 10 strikeouts while limiting Golden Gate to three hits.
"Their pitchers hit their spots," said Golden Gate manager Mike Walker, whose team beat San Carlos, 3-1, in pool play. "They hit the outside corner. They pitched around us and they silenced our bats. Hitting is our strong point, and we didn't hit at all tonight."
Withstandley worked his way out of early jams.
With a runner at second and two outs in the first, Withstandley struck out Andrew Hill on a high fastball.
In the second, Dylon Pohle led off with a double and courtesy runner A.J. Lee advanced to third on a passed ball. One strikeout later, Lee was thrown out at the plate by Baxter from third on a bunt. Withstandley fanned Robinson to end the threat.
With two outs in the fourth, Withstandley gave way to the reliable Miller, who proceeded to strike out four in a row, including whiffing Lee after falling behind 3-0 in the count.
Miller retired all seven batters he faced, sending Golden Gate to an early summer vacation.
Following the game, San Carlos coach Todd Baxter held up his end of a pre-game promise by going under the razor. Each player got a chance to shave Baxter's head, leaving the man who doubles as league president looking a tad ruffled, something his team wasn't on their way to claiming the title.
San Carlos advances to the Section 6 tournament at Chuck Reiter Field in Venice. San Carlos is scheduled for pool play Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Should they win the Section, San Carlos will return to home to Three Oaks for the eight-team state tournament.
"Hopefully, in two weeks, we'll be back," said Withstandley.