PORTAGE | Zack Moneta is deliberate on the mound.
Between pitches, the Valparaiso Americans pitcher will take off his glove or hat, circle the mound, tug his sleeve or take a deep breath. He says he needs the routine to focus. It seemed to work Saturday night.
Valpo took the Little League Juniors District I championship with a 4-0 win over South Haven. Moneta pitched six shutout innings, allowing nine hits with no walks and stiking out nine.
"I felt like all my breaking balls were working. Everything was going my way," Moneta said. "Whenever I needed to, I just calmed down and took a couple deep breaths and focused."
The win sends the 13- and 14-year-olds back to the state tournament after a disappointing showing last season, when the team won only one game. The state tourney will begin Saturday in Portage.
"This year's team, we're just a better team," Moneta said. "I think we're here to win. Last year, we were just kind of there."
Valparaiso opened the scoring in the first inning with Eric Klobucar's RBI double to left. The ball one-hopped the fence, scoring Jake Sherman. Derek Lasky was thrown out at home on the play.
Valpo added three more in the third frame. Sherman scored on Ray Kreloff's sacrifice fly, while Lasky and Klobucar scored on errors. Lasky reached base on a dropped third strike.
South Haven had its chances. The black and gold lined out hard to each corner infield spot with runners on in the fourth and fifth innings.
"We knew as long as our defense was good, we'd hold them," Valparaiso manager Tony Klobucar said. "Defense made no errors and our bats came alive when they had to. It was nice and easy."