VANCOUVER - For eight straight summers, B.C.'s Little League champions have continued on to capture the national title and represent Canada at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
So you can imagine what was running through the minds of the White Rock-South Surrey all-stars Sunday after they knocked off Hastings 4-2 at Vancouver's Elm Park to wrest the provincial crown away from last year's champs.
The 2013 nationals are being held in Glace Bay, N.S., and open Friday. The Little League World Series begins Aug. 15. That could be one stupendous road trip, not to mention a long one, for the 11 and 12-year-old team if all goes well.
“I'll have to pack a full suitcase, I guess,” said White Rock's Matt Benson, whose two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning knotted the score 2-2 and led to Matt Mele's game-winning hit one batter later. “It's going to be an honour to represent B.C. I'm so excited to go to nationals. And I like the fact we might be favourites because maybe the other teams will be intimidated a little bit. We'll see how it goes.”
Sunday's final dripped with drama almost from the outset. For starters, it was a repeat of last year's final, won 20-0 by Hastings. During this year's round robin, White Rock squandered an 8-4 lead against Hastings, fell behind 9-8 and then rallied with four in the bottom of the sixth for a walk-off win.
In Sunday's final, Hastings led 2-0 going into the bottom of the fifth and was six outs away from a third provincial title since 2009. But three White Rock hits and two Hastings errors led to a four-run rally, keyed by the crucial Benson and Mele at-bats.
“Us and Hastings, we have to be two of the best teams in Canada,” said victorious White Rock coach Jeff Crossley. “Our guys are pretty battle tested, as are Hastings. I'm glad we got them today. It's pretty emotional for me so you could imagine what's running through the kids' minds. They wanted it so bad and we wanted it so bad for them. It's been a long journey to get to this point. The kids have put in a lot of work.”
Hastings starting pitcher Cortez D'Alessandro was in and out of trouble throughout Sunday's final as he allowed White Rock's leadoff batter to reach base in each of the first four innings. White Rock managed to push those runners into scoring position each time but left them all stranded as D'Alessandro found his strikeout form.
In the fateful fifth, Ryan Dauphinee singled with one out and was safe at second when D'Alessandro fielded a comebacker to the mound off the bat of Ethan Scardina and tried for the force play. The throw to shortstop Adam Inouye was bobbled, everyone was safe and the door was open. Riley Wallack followed with a single, setting the table for the game's key hits by Benson and Mele.
“Yes, I was thinking about all those lost opportunities,” Crossley said. “For sure, when you're up against a pitcher who is that tough, you expect it's going to be a tight game and you don't expect that you're going to string three, four and five hits together. But we knew if we kept on swinging the bats, and kept knocking on the door, that eventually we could break through.
“Our kids never gave up. They kept fighting. That (bobbled) throw was a big turning point for sure. We needed a little break like that.”
Mele, who went 3-for-3 to lead White Rock's offence, claimed he hadn't let his mind wander pre-game to the nationals and then perhaps a trip to Williamsport.
“I haven't thought about any of that,” he said, smiling through a mouthful of braces. “I just wanted to get through this game first. It's exhilarating. It's very exciting.”
Hastings head coach Vito Bordignon, who has twice taken his team to the nationals and Williamsport, admitted he was dealing with a dejected group.
“The boys are not taking it well,” he said. “They're all 12-year-olds and they don't have 'wait until next year.' They knew the next stage was the Canadians and the possibility of going to the Little League World Series. So it's hard, you know. It's tough. We gave everything we had and we just had one bad inning and that's it. We're a competitive group at Hastings and we will always be trying to win this tournament.”
SHORT STOPS: Tate Dearing was the winning pitcher in relief Sunday as he entered the game in the top of the fourth with two on and nobody out. He allowed just one hit after starter Cody Sigouin yielded six hits and both Hastings runs... D'Alessandro struck out eight and didn't walk a batter in his five innings of work... White Rock leaves Tuesday for Glace Bay and is scheduled to play its first game Saturday.
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