Greenville, N.C. (Aug. 3, 2015) – On June 10 twelve boys, yet to start middle school, began a journey together that would take them through two states, three area codes, seven different baseball fields and a few weeks’ worth of complimentary continental breakfast at two different hotels.
The twelve boys who, in the months prior, were competing on the different teams of Loudoun South Little League.
The twelve boys who will be engraved as the first team in LSLL to win the state championship, advance to the Tournament of State Champions in Greenville, North Carolina and advance to the championship.
The twelve boys who will forever by linked together through a common goal and desire-Little League glory.
“I’ve coached for ten seasons, and this was probably one of the best experiences that I have ever had,” assistant coach Mike Henderson said. “Throughout the entire tournament, it was twelve kids doing a job, and it made it a lot easier on the coaches.”
Loudoun South Little League National began play in the District 16 tournament, hosted in Purcellville. LSLL-with no scouting reports or inside scoops on the opponents other than the Loudoun South American team-proceeded to hit their way through the tournament.
LSLLN found themselves in the championship game against the team they knew all too well, Loudoun South American. The interleague championship final was closer than it seemed, as the National Leaguers pulled away at the end and defeated the American league team, 19-2.
This was the second district championship at the 9-10 level for LSLL, and the sixth district title across all age groups. This win advanced LSLLN to the state tournament, hosted in Newport News, in a tournament where no LSLL team had ever won before.
“It means a lot to be a part of the all-star team, I think it’s a special experience for the kids and everybody involved,” manager Steve Skinner said. “I think it’s among the best baseball experiences you can have.”
LSLLN kicked off the state tournament pool play against Cave Springs Little League with an offensive explosion, putting 24 runs on the board to earn a win that showed the entire tournament field, and maybe even some of their own players, that this team was for real. The second pool play game was a rivalry against fellow Northern Virginia foe Southwestern Youth Association East team. The players on both teams had met before on travel teams, but this game immediately rose above all other matchups in importance, being that the winner would qualify for single elimination, bracket play.
“[The players] represented everything a team is all about,” Skinner said. “It was all twelve guys all the time, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
LSLLN went on to an 8-2 win that qualified the team for bracket play. Another pool play win over Bristol kept LSLLN’s undefeated streak intact, as they entered the quarterfinal round with a perfect 3-0 pool play record. LSLLN beat Atlee and Bridgewater in the quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively, by a combined 16 runs to advance to the state final against familiar foe SYA East, who they defeated 12-4. This win was LSLL’s first state championship at any level, and punched their ticket to Greenville, NC to the league’s first ever appearance in the Tournament of State Champions.
TOSC is the equivalent of the Southeastern regional at the 11-12 year old level, since Little League does not officially sponsor a regional tournament at the 9-10 year old level. Seven state champions and one runner up-the South Carolina champion was not able to make the trip to the tournament-battled for the chance to be called the champion of champions. State champions from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia were representing more than just the towns where the players live.
Once again the LSLLN team, representing Virginia, continued their undefeated streak through pool play and the semifinal, squeaking out two wins against a Florida team whose offensive power matched LSLLN’s. The final featured the two most dominant teams in the entire tournament, LSLLN and East Surry Little League representing North Carolina. The TOSC final broke away from the previous ways the teams have been playing and turned into a pitcher’s duel very early.
“We certainly played a good team, and we played them well,” Skinner said. “We just didn’t come up with timely hits and needed to make another play or two in the field and it’s a different outcome.”
With the score 5-2 in North Carolina’s favor, LSLLN had the bases loaded and one out in the final inning with one of the team’s best hitters Cal Henderson at the plate. Henderson had hit several home runs previously in their postseason run, and with one earlier in the game that hit off the top of the wall, a home run in this at bat would put LSLLN up by one and Henderson into LSLL history.
But it wasn’t to be, as Henderson hit a screaming line drive back up the middle that the North Carolina pitcher caught in a desperation glove swipe to keep his own head intact. All the runners were caught off guard with the catch, and the runner on first was doubled off of first base to end the game and LSLLN’s title hopes.
The twelve boys who entered this summer with hopes of glory, although ending it in defeat, took the loss with class and character.
The twelve boys finally came to realize that they have done something special together, that expanded far beyond just baseball.
They earned themselves new friends for the rest of their lives and had captured the attention of baseball players not just in the Northern Virginia area, but across the state.
They inspired a young group of baseball players in the younger ranks of LSLL to want to be just like them.
The twelve boys who just won, and won, and won, and won.
The twelve boys who, staring defeat straight into the eyes, came to the realization that this summer of 2015 would be something that they would never forget.