SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Eastlake Little League manager Rob Chandler entered the media room Tuesday night wearing an ice pack around his right elbow. He said it was the result of 90 days of batting practice.
Even the coaches are taking a beating.
He does not mind. A little pain and a little ice is nothing. Chandler and his team enjoy paying the price. They might be tired and sore but they are still standing at the Little League World Series.
They are one of the country’s three best teams.
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“It doesn’t get old,” pitcher Jack Matheson said after pitching great in relief during Tuesday’s 6-5 elimination win over Nashville, Tenn. “It’s one of those sports I love to play all the time.”
So do all of Matheson’s teammates. The passion shows up whenever Sammamish plays and is a big reason it will play for a spot in the U.S. final Thursday against Westport, Conn.
Sammamish could have an advantage entering the game since Connecticut played Wednesday. Both teams started their aces, so Sammamish will see someone other than the opponent’s best.
Sammamish has won two straight thrilling one-run elimination games and now has a shot at becoming the first team from its state to reach a U.S. final in the 21st century.
“They’re fighters. They rise to the occasion,” Chandler said. “They get the job done.”
Sammamish has done that 20 times this season, losing only one game at the states level and one game to Connecticut last Sunday.
Even in that loss, Sammamish nearly came all the way back from an eight-run third-inning deficit before dropping a 9-7 heartbreaker. Since then, Washington has held off Iowa, 6-5, and rallied past Tennessee, 6-5.
The Tennessee win seemed to symbolize everything the team represents. Washington fell behind 2-0 in the first inning and struck out six straight times to start the game, on just 25 pitches.
The Northwest champions seemed overmatched. But Washington adjusted and scored six third-inning runs and then excelled under pressure, winning a thriller.
Sammamish entered the game hoping to wait out Tennessee pitcher Trae McLemore. Often in those first two innings, they watched strikes go by.
The team changed its approach in the third and started attacking first-pitch strikes. The result was six straight batters reaching base. Sammamish scored six runs on six hits and had four different players deliver RBI hits.
“We took the take off and started swinging at balls down the middle,” assistant coach Matt Fitzgibbons said. “I was worried we were going to get no-hit the way things started and be that team. But a guy gets on and then the next guy thinks, ‘maybe I can do this,’ and that’s when it starts to cascade.”
Sammamish has done that throughout the Series, scoring 21 runs and getting clutch hits up and down the lineup. There are no weak spots, proven when the reserves combined for five hits and four RBI against Connecticut.
Sammamish has a great shot now.
“We’re relishing this opportunity,” Chandler said. “I don’t even have the words to describe how much fun this is.”