Santa Margarita National Little League Team
The Santa Margarita National Little League team as it heads out for championship weekend, Aug. 4, 2017. Photo: Facebook

Orange County’s Santa Margarita’s Little League superstar team is looking forward to battling its next World Series foe Sunday after a blowout first-round victory highlighted by a grand-slam home run.

Joey Gray hit the grand slam in the first inning and his twin brother Bobby allowed one hit over 5 1/3 innings leading the all-star team from the Santa Margarita National Little League to a 9-0 victory Friday over the Walla Walla Valley Little League all-stars in the Little League World Series opener for both teams in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Joey Gray singled in Drew Rutter, who walked, in the third for Rancho Santa Margarita-based Santa Margarita’s fifth run.

Santa Margarita combined singles by Bobby Gray, Rutter, Mason Kellerman, a walk to Joey Gray and two errors by Walla Walla Valley for four more runs in the fifth inning.

Bobby Gray did not allow a hit until Andrew Hall’s single with one out in the sixth and final inning. Gray was relieved by Bryan Ramirez after allowing the hit to Hall because he reached the 85-pitch limit. Ramirez got the final two outs as Rancho Santa Margarita-based Santa Margarita improved to 17-0 in its five tournaments.

Bobby Gray struck out seven and walked two.

Santa Margarita, the Southern California and West Regional champion, will next play Sunday against the all-star team from North Carolina’s North State Little League, the Southeast Region champion, which defeated South Dakota’s Sioux Falls Little League, the Midwest Region champion, 6-0, later Friday.

Walla Walla-based Walla Walla Valley, the Washington and Northwest Region champion, will face Sioux Falls, Saturday in an elimination game in the modified double-elimination tournament.

Santa Margarita is the first Orange County team to advance to the Little League World Series since 2011, when the all-star team from Huntington Beach’s Ocean View Little League went on to become the first team from the county to win the world championship.

Manager C.J. Ankrum returned to the dugout for Santa Margarita Friday. He was suspended for Saturday’s West Regional championship game for violating Little League’s policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct and the high standard that Little League International holds for all its players, coaches, umpires and volunteers, according to Brian McClintock, senior director of communications, Little League Baseball & Softball.

During Santa Margarita’s 12-8 victory over the Hilo Little League all- stars on Aug. 10, Ankrum “used inappropriate language that was seen and heard in” ESPN’s broadcast, McClintock said.

—City News Service

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