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Dawgs not worried about comparisons to ‘06 squad

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Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 8:00 am

The decision to embrace the past can be a difficult one, especially when it ultimately brings comparisons that can be hard to match.

Maybe the current Ahwatukee Little League All-Stars are too young to understand the pressure of trying to repeat what the 2006 ALL squad did, or maybe they are not even trying to do so.

One thing is for sure, they are definitely not shying away from it, like some might, as they are calling themselves the "Dawgs" in honor of the 2006 team. The team is also using the same catcher's gear that the old Dawgs used all the way to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.

It is pretty clear they are being humble about honoring the team that came before them.

"They were junkyard Dawgs and we are still working our way to their level," coach Rocky Kern said. "We have a lot of work to do, but there is no reason we can't try and emulate the team that made it to where we want to go."

The process of getting there continues Tuesday when the Dawgs face Rio Rico at James Kreigh Park in Oro Valley, near Tucson. Both squads won their sectional tournaments and the winner advances to the title game of the state tournament.

It is a four-team double-elimination tournament with McCormick Ranch and Gilbert National, both of which advanced by winning the sectional consolation bracket, making up the rest of the field.

McCormick Ranch and Gilbert face each other Tuesday evening in an elimination game. The winner of that game faces the loser of Rio Rico-ALL contest in an elimination game Wednesday. The winning team advances to title game Thursday (and Friday if necessary) with the tournament champion advancing to the West Regional in San Bernardino, Calif.

In other words, the current edition of the Dawgs have a long way to go until they can come close to equaling the 2006 Dawgs, but regardless of what happens this week Evan Popeck has enjoyed wearing the same catching gear that Shaun Chase and others did five years ago.

"It is really cool," Popeck said. "People are starting to compare us to them and we have some of the same gear they did. It brought them some luck so why not use it."

Before a recent practice it was clear the players didn't mind being called the Dawgs and any comparisons that might come their way.

It doesn't add any extra pressure, only pride.

"That was such a great ballclub," Josh Wunnenberg said. "If people compare us to them than maybe we can be great, too. We have to get better if we are going to do all of the things they did."

Outfielder Ryan Kern had similar thoughts about the idea of embracing the history that comes with being compared to their namesake.

"I think we can play with any team in the country if we play to our level," he said. "That team showed they could do that so I can see the (comparisons) and we want to do what they did."

As it turns out the team is honoring more than the 2006 Dawgs as the current team started wearing patches on their jersey to remember Christina Taylor Green.

The 9-year-old Green was among six people killed in a shooting rampage on Jan. 8 in Tucson outside a supermarket where a neighbor had taken her to meet Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was critically wounded.

Team member Logan White Jr. and his family are friends with the Greens through his father, Logan White Sr., who is an assistant general manager with the Dodgers. Green's father, John, is a scout with the Dodgers.

"It is the least we could do," said Deena White, Logan Jr.'s mom. "We got approval from Little League and we thought it was a great way to remember her."

And if it all goes well over the next week they can share stories about Green's love of baseball to a national audience.

These Dawgs don't plan on going away anytime soon.

"We've played pretty good so far, but that doesn't mean we can't be better," Popeck said. "We have a chance to do something special if we keep going and that's what we need to do starting this week."

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

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Jason P. Skoda
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