Eager Lions crave wins in Legion World Series

Sierra Vista baseball coach Levi Gill wants his players to savor every moment of this week’s American Legion World Series.

But Gill also has a valuable lesson to pass along from when the Lions last reached the World Series in 2005 and won only one of three games.

“Last time we went, the emphasis was to enjoy yourself,” Gill said. “This time, the emphasis is going to be to win it.”

Sierra Vista (45-15) opens the eight-team, double-elimination World Series against Kernersville (N.C.) at Spokane, Wash., at 10 a.m. today.

The Lions hope to continue a magical postseason in which they have gone from fourth in the regular-season Gold Division and losing their state tournament opener to winning the Legion state and Western Regional championships.

Sierra Vista won twice Monday to reach the World Series, ousting Waipahu (Hawaii) 15-4 before routing rival Bishop Gorman 9-0 in the regional final.

Gill said he hasn’t named a starting pitcher for today’s opener, but he has a deep staff to call upon. The Lions have relied on five solid arms in right-handers Jake Hager (3-0), Blair Goldsack (11-2), Dusty Stevens (9-4) and Dakota Roehl (9-1), and left-hander Alex Estrella (7-2).

Stevens pitched two complete-game victories in the regional, and Hager threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the final.

“In order to get here, you’ve got to have good performances from everybody,” Gill said. “We’ve got some huge pitching performances.”

Gill said a key to winning the World Series could be keeping his players focused on their own obligations.

“We’re not trying to get the guys to worry about other teams, but their performance,” he said. “Are they focused? Are they ready to play every pitch?”

One player who appears ready is Hager, a Sierra Vista senior-to-be who has committed to Arizona State. Also a shortstop who bats leadoff, Hager is expected to key the offense after hitting a team-high .519 on his way to Most Valuable Player honors in the regional.
Sierra Vista scored 62 runs in six games in winning the tournament.

“Our team’s confident,” Hager said Monday. “If winning a regional is this exciting, I can’t wait to be in a (Legion) World Series.”

The Lions already have taken in some of the perks of playing in the World Series, including attending a banquet Thursday in which Hall of Famer George Brett was the keynote speaker.

“It’s awesome,” Gill said. “It’s a memory that will last for the rest of their lives.”

Games from the World Series will be streamed live at, with former major leaguer Jeff Kent working on the broadcast team.