SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Eastlake Little Leaguers from Sammamish began that proverbial process of putting their World Series run in perspective on Saturday.
They finished third in the nation, the deepest run for any team from Washington since Kirkland won the World Series in 1982.
Naturally, the Eastlake players would rather have been on the field to take a shot at beating “the other Eastlake,” from Chula Vista, Calif., for a spot in the World Series championship game Sunday.
“We can compete with any team,” Austin Oh said. “We’re sorry that game didn’t happen.”
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Instead, players, coaches and families cheered California from the stands as they notched a 12-1 win over Westport, Conn., to move on and play Japan for the title.
The Sammamish guys were biased: They became friends with the California team while both were winning their respective regionals in San Bernardino, and Connecticut was the team responsible for their only two losses here, by a cumulative score of 23-20.
“We became very good friends with the West team during regionals,” Adam Carper said. “We really want them to beat New England.”
The second loss to New England will hurt for a while — Sammamish was up 12-5 in the fourth. Connecticut came back to extend the game into extras, before winning 14-13.
“There’s no safe lead in Little League. It’s tough when you give up a seven-run lead, but these guys played their hearts out,” manager Rob Chandler said. “We had 14 hits yesterday, and to lose doesn’t make much sense. They deserve to be playing today.”
“They were calling it an ‘instant classic’ on ESPN,” Julie Carper said. “This has been a long road — it’s been everything you’d expect.”
The outcome for Eastlake wasn’t ideal, yet the overall experience was a treat for players and all of their families.
“I had an idea we’d be on TV, because I watch (the World Series) every year,” Zach Olson said. “It’s even better than you think. You think it’ll be so exciting, and it’s even more exciting.”
Making it to Williamsport was only a thought for Dan Matheson a month ago.
“We thought as they played in districts, ‘Wouldn’t it be phenomenal if we won states,’ ” he said. “The odds are so stacked, you’re hopeful. We got here and won enough so the kids know they belong.”
Between pitches during the California game, Matheson’s son Jack was looking at scouting reports made by the Baseball Factory for every player in the World Series.
“They say my curveball ‘has bite,’ ” Jack said. “That’s not something we’ve got before.”
The “surreal experience,” as Chandler calls it, is ending, and reality is returning in the form of school starting back soon. Impending classes aren’t distressing the Sammamish players too much.
“I’m a little ready to go back,” Jack Carper said. “We’ll see all the people. We’ll be wearing these hats forever.”
“We’ll wear the jerseys the first day of school, then retire them,” Jack Titus said. “They’ll put them on the wall.”