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CHRISTINE COTTER, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Chris Huerta has been one of the star players for the Orange Little League team that has reached the Western Regionals. 'He's a big-game pitcher; a guy who wants the ball in big games and handles himself very well in those situations,' Coach Chris Esperanza says.

Orange moves into spotlight at Western Regional

SPECIAL TO OCVARSITY.COM

Last summer, as Ocean View Little League steamrolled its way through the Little League Western Regionals, a handful of coaches and 10- and 11-year-olds from Orange made the hour-long drive to San Bernardino to watch every inning of that remarkable run.

This summer, those roles will be reversed.

"So many of the boys were out there last year, watching Ocean View all the way through Regionals," Orange Little League coach Chris Esperanza said. "Now they'll be in the stands watching us. It's super-exciting for the boys."

As this year's Southern California representative, Orange Little League begins its Western Regional run against Hawaii on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Al Houghton Stadium.

"Orange Little League is like a family," Esperanza said. "The relationships established here go beyond baseball. Everyone's rallying behind this group."

That includes the reigning Little League World Series champions, who inadvertently heightened expectations for this year's Southern California representative by winning it all last year.

"I think our kids know what an accomplishment it is to get this far," Esperanza said. "If you're the Southern California champ you've run the gauntlet because there's a lot of good baseball in SoCal."

On an Orange team full of versatile and indispensable players, 12-year-old Chris Huerta has asserted himself as a two-way star.

"Chris is an all-around player," Esperanza said. "He's a big-game pitcher; a guy who wants the ball in big games and handles himself very well in those situations. ... He also hits in the middle of a solid group of hitters.

"He's just a happy-go-lucky kid. He'll have the biggest smile out there all week."

With hundreds of spectators on hand for locally and nationally televised games, and a coveted trip to Williamsport up for grabs, it's imperative to remember the real significance of this forthcoming week of Little League baseball.

"Hopefully the memories our kids create here will be about the people they met and the relationships they created," Esperanza said. "We're encouraging them to meet the other teams and be hospitable and welcoming and make some new friends.

"They're definitely excited to do that."


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