Players for the Novato North Little League team gather up around the coaching staff. Novato North became the first Novato Little League team to advance to the divisional round in more than 50 years. (Photo provided by Novato North)
It had been many years since a Novato team had progressed to the NorCal Divisional Little League tournament, but this year’s team of 12 year olds broke through in a major way.
Having won its first eight games in District 3 play, Novato North qualified for section play by defeating crosstown rival Novato South in the championship game. Three more wins in section play followed as the team became the first from Novato to move into the third round of play in more than 50 years, according to Novato North president Paul Farbstein.
“We’ve been pretty good for a few years,” Farbstein said. “We were beaten in the (District 3) finals as 10s, knocked out earlier than we thought we would be as 11s. This year we thought we had a shot to go pretty far. Things all clicked this year. … This is probably further than we thought we’d get but we did expect some pretty good success.”
Novato North headed into Thursday’s elimination game against San Mateo National with a 13-1 record. Although a 6-3 loss to San Mateo ended Novato’s run, the team was one of the last 12 teams left standing in the Western Region with a shot to make it to Williamsport, Penn., for the Little League World Series.
“It’s been pretty cool,” leadoff hitter Hugh Brady said prior to Thursday’s game. “It’s been fun. You don’t get a lot of chances to do this stuff and when you do it’s really exciting.”
The team came close to making an extended run two seasons ago, only to be denied in the District 3 title game by Novato South. The two teams met again in the title game this year, a 4-3 win for Novato North.
“That was probably one of the hardest games that we’ve played,” pitcher Sean McGrath said. “We got a lot of confidence because that was the first time we’ve beaten that team. That’s probably the best we’ve played.”
The victory allowed Novato North to keep playing while a loss would have ended its season much earlier.
“The most exciting game was when we played Novato South in the District 3 championship,” pitcher Carson Davis said. “It was such a close game, very tense, very nervous because we’d never beaten them.’
Novato trailed 3-0 before stringing together a five-run rally for a 5-4 victory. Zach Farbstein had the go-ahead hit.
“The kids really believe in themselves,” Novato manager Scott Davis said. “They’re a group of teammates who are just having a good time and enjoying the journey they are on.”
McGrath pitched in the section title game against the same Oakland team a few days later, securing an 8-0 win that sent Novato North into the divisional tournament with six other teams.
Novato put together a 12-0 record and surrendered just 18 runs to that point. Tiburon Peninsula was the last Marin team to make it this far, reaching this same stage of the tournament in 2017.
Novato lost its opening game of the divisional tournament against Chico Central but bounced back to beat the same Chico team on Monday night.
“We’re all friends, we’re just having fun,” Brady said. “When we’re down, your friends come pick you up. It’s just knowing that your friends are here to help you.”
The team has forged a bond from playing together for the past several seasons and seven of them also play together on the same Future Prospects travel team.
“The best part about the team outside of their talent is their friendships,” Paul Farbstein said. “The entire team are friends and most kids have one or more of their best friends on the team.”
McGrath, O’Keefe and Carson Davis have been key on the mound for Novato while the team has gotten big hitting contributions from many players including McGrath, Tyler Keehn, Davis, Brady, Farbstein, Joseph Cipollina and Vincent Etcheber.
“We’ve had so much support from people in the community,” Davis said. “I got video messages from (former Major Leaguer) Jerry Goff, Jared Goff and Bud Norris — both guys who played in our league.”