Vienna, VA *- On a warm, beautiful evening at Vienna's historic Crabtree Field, McLean Little League's Sharon Lodge Nats held off the Great Falls Little League Nationals 13-12 to win the prestigious Papa Wayne Starliper Tournament. The single elimination tournament, which matches the top 14 AAA teams in Virginia's District IV Region, took place over four days at Vienna Little League's Yeonas Park. This is the first time in five seasons that a team from McLean Little League has won the tournament.
Sharon Lodge, which was invited to the tournament based on their 10-3 record and first place finish in McLean's American League, was coming off of a 14-1 win over Vienna Colonial in the previous day's semi-final round (after 4-3 and 10-4 wins in the first two rounds). Great Falls,
9-3-3 and the regular season champion for their league, received a first round bye and outscored their opponents 30-15 in their two games en route to the final.
The Lodge, which had prepared for the game with a hard core pizza party/cookie snarfing/batting cage session at McLean Little League, was about as goofy and laid-back as one would expect a gaggle of 8-11 year olds to be before a game of this magnitude. Still, once players were introduced and the National Anthem played, both teams were all business (aside from the occasional sunflower seed spitting contest, of course.)
Sharon Lodge was the visiting team by virtue of coinflip and in the top of the first threatened to blow the game wide open when starting pitcher Daniel Conforti hit Kevin Tully with a pitch to load the bases. Conforti settled down to strike out the next two batters, however, and Great Falls made a heads up play to throw out Foster Lewis' steal attempt at home and end the threat. It was a tough start to the game for The Lodge, but Manager Rick Lewis and the coaching staff reminded the team to keep their composure and play hard.
In the bottom of the first, starting pitcher Matthew Hanusik got great defensive plays from first baseman Jason "Big Train" Schreiner and centerfielder Tommy Shue to send Great Falls down in order on just five pitches. In the nineteenth game of Sharon Lodge's season, it might have been one of their top five defensive innings.
Bolstered by their strong showing in the bottom of the first, the Nats bats came alive in the top of the second. Charlie Kiley worked a leadoff walk and scored after consecutive singles by Jackson Salopek (the previous day's winning pitcher) and Big Train. Hittin' Miles Bolin, one of the best in McLean Little League at going deep into the count, crushed a ball that was mishandled by the Great Falls shortstop.
Conforti bounced back with his fourth strikeout of the game before walking AA call up and secret weapon Owen Ricketts. Foster Lewis then cracked an outfield single to make the score 3-0 before Conforti was able to induce a groundball out and end the threat.
In the bottom of the second Hanusik continued to cruise. After allowing a leadoff single to starting pitcher Conforti, Hanusik cleanly fielded a pop up and struck out his first batter to give Great Falls a man on second with two outs. Cameron Davis hit a squibber down third base line that looked like trouble, but instead of letting the ball go foul, third baseman Salopek fielded the ball cleanly and gunned it to first base and the outstretched glove of Big Train Schreiner. The ball got there just as the runner arrived...the crowd waited for the call...
It was a sterling defensive play for Salopek and more importantly, another low pitch inning for Hanusik.
In the top of the third, The Lodge's offensive juggernaut rolled on.
Leadoff walks to Kevin Tully and Pete "Bourgie" Bourgeois and Salopek's second base hit of the game were sandwiched around two Great Falls errors to score three runs. The scoring wouldn't end there, however.
After a Big Train single, Great Falls changed pitchers, bringing in sidearmer Jonah Everett. No problem for Hittin' Miles Bolin as he lined a sharp grounder to the shortstop that turned into a close out at third.
Tommy Shue then stepped to the plate and made up for an earlier strikeout by hammering a pitch down the third base line that rolled all the way to the fence for a stand up double. Tommy's hit made the score 9-0 and that was where the game stood going into the bottom of the third.
Of course Great Falls is one of the top offensive teams in all of District IV AAA and there was no way they were going down quietly. With two outs and runners on first and second, the Nationals got four consecutive singles from Matthew Ohlson, Andrew Shapiro, Michael Sevila and David Altman to make the score 9-3 with three full innings to play.
In the top of the fourth, Manager Rick Lewis made it clear - The Lodge had to get those three runs back. The team did that and then some, as Pete "Bourgie" Bourgeois smoked a double to the fence, scoring Lewis and Tully. Not to be outdone, Hwang Lee and Charlie Kiley drew walks en route to a four run frame that made the lead a towering 13-3. With just nine outs to go, things were looking good for The Lodge. What could possibly go wrong?
Great Falls would have none of it. Their bats, which had woken up the previous inning, caught fire in the bottom half of the stanza. Five base hits in six batters forced a Sharon Lodge pitching change. Rick Lewis engineered the rare triple switch at this point, sending shortstop Shue to centerfield, centerfielder Foster Lewis to pitcher and pitcher Matthew Hanusik to shortstop. Despite the brilliant gambit, the Nationals pushed across two more runs before back to back defensive gems from left fielder Bourgie and shortstop Hanusik ended the inning.
With the score 13-8, The Lodge was starting to feel the pressure.
Coaches kept trumpeting composure. Parents paced nervously. Sunflower seed spitting contests dwindled. A brief two out rally (runners on first and second) was squelched by the Great Falls third baseman, sending the game into the bottom of the fifth.
The Great Falls offense was relentless. They peppered base hits and worked walks in between Foster Lewis strikeouts. The Sharon Lodge defense, which had been airtight earlier, was starting to buckle. With runners on first and second and four more runs already across, the younger Conforti ripped a groundball to second base. If the ball got through, the game would surely be tied. That never happened though as Miles Bolin cleanly fielded the ball and threw to first base for the third out of the inning.
Top of the sixth. 13-12. Screaming and cheering interspersed with absolute dead silence when each pitch is delivered. The scene is unlike anything most of these kids have ever experienced in baseball. The District IV AAA Championship would be settled right here.
Tension reigned in the Sharon Lodge dugout. Surely they could put some insurance runs on the board. Right?
Total mayhem on the Great Falls side of the field. Down one run to a team they had scored a whopping TWELVE runs on in just the last three innings. Down one run to a pitcher, Foster Lewis, that had caught most of the game and pitched the rest and might be running out of steam. Down one run with the top of their lineup likely to see some at bats.
"You are still winning! You are winning this game! Look at the scoreboard! Keep your composure!" the mantra was heard over and over in the Sharon Lodge dugout as the coaches did everything they could to lift the spirits of their players.
Foster Lewis had plenty in the tank. Throwing harder than even the coaches thought possible, he locked in, throwing strike after strike.
Catcher "Ready" Freddie Zwirb made diving stops on the occasional tough pitches. The first batter popped it high into the air, but the ball settled into shortstop Hanusik's glove for the first out. The second batter hit a chopper to the mound that Lewis fielded cleanly and threw to Big Train at first.
One out to go.
Great Falls would not die though as eight year old leadoff hitter Michael Sevila lined a single to the outfield to bring the winning run to the plate. David Altman, who had two hits in his previous three at bats, dug in and fouled off the first pitch.
Altman stepped back in the box. Lewis dealt. Altman crushed a line drive down the third base line.
Hearts jumped into throats. Stomachs flipped.One Lodge coached jumped up and down like a pogo stick.
Lewis toed the rubber. Altman coiled. Lewis delivered. Pop.
GAME OVER! SHARON LODGE WINS IT! SHARON LODGE WINS IT!
The Lodge dugout emptied as the players tackled Foster Lewis in a display of pure and utter joy and elation. Coaches hyperventilated through mile-wide smiles. Parents exhaled. The Sharon Masonic Lodge Nats had just won the Starliper Championship.
After the game, the teams received their medals and shook hands. The admiration and respect between the clubs was palpable as both teams delivered a championship game that won't soon be forgotten.