Following Wednesday's dramatic U.S. winner's bracket final, Southeast champ Goodlettsville, Tenn., manager Joey Hale admitted he is an avid roller coaster fan.
Yup, that makes sense.
After experiencing some of the up and down games, he has at the Little League Baseball World Series, Hale has been riding a proverbial roller coaster of emotions since the start. And just like when it comes to the real thing, he has been loving it.
The latest roller-coaster game came Wednesday as Tennessee squandered a fifth-inning lead but then rallied in the final inning for a 4-3 win over Southwest champ San Antonio, Texas. The victory has Goodlettsville a win away from history.
Goodlettsville could become the first Tennessee team to reach the Series world championship if it wins the U.S. title Saturday.
"I'm just glad to be here," pitcher/outfielder Brock Myers said after homering for a third straight Series game. "I hope we win it, too."
"We're just enjoying the ride. At this point, win or lose, we're happy," Hale said. "We just go to it in every game and take one inning at a time, one strike at a time. If we end up ahead at the end then that's great. So far that's been happening and it's awesome."
So to has been Goodlettsville's play in the most pressure-packed moments. Goodlettsville reached the Series in dramatic fashion, blanking perennial powerhouse Warner Robins, Ga., in front of 10,000 fans, mostly from Warner Robins, on its home field.
Following an easy Series opener, Goodlettsville then rallied from behind against West champ Petaluma, Calif., before losing a lead, regaining it, then losing it again. After it seemed California had seized momentum and tied the game 5-5, Goodlettsville responded by scoring four sixth-inning runs and winning, 9-6.
Wednesday was a near repeat as Goodlettsville turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead before Texas scored twice in the fifth and went up 3-2. Goodlettsville was three outs from its first Series loss and a tough game Thursday against California but again it remained cool under fire.
Jake Rucker, Jayson Brown and Luke Brown all reached base before Cole Carter hit a go-ahead RBI single, making it 4-3. Reliever Luke Brown, making his first Series appearance, allowed a one-out walk, but did not become rattled. Instead, he ended the game one pitch later, inducing a game-ending double play grounder to second baseman Lorenzo Butler.
The coaster keeps going up and down, but the results stay the same.
"It was pretty nervous. It's kind of hard to pitch up 4-3," Luke Brown said. "You know if you give up a run you're going to have to bat again so it was a pretty tough position."
But these are the positions in which Goodlettsville seems to thrive the most. The Southeast champions are 13-1 this summer and have dominated every tournament they've played in en route to capturing a second straight state championship. The games have been closer since then, but those have been the games when Goodlettsville has proven to be as tough as it is talented.
Hale and his father Jerry, an assistant coach, are firefighters back home, and their fearless mentality has flowed to their players. This is a team that has yet to show fear or buckle, no matter the situation.
Coaches have the players prepared for any situation and Goodlettsville is one of the field's most fundamentally sound teams, making only one error in three games. At this level, being loose is a big plus, too, and Goodlettsville is as loose as any team here.
Players and coaches want to win, but also understand it's not the end of the world if they do not.
"We try to keep it fun," Hale said. "When you get down to it, it's just a game."
It's a game Good-lettsville has played better than nearly every American team this summer. Roller coaster rides often are emotional, but not for this team.
Their ride is the fun part.