Tears, achievement for eliminated teams

As he gathered his team for the last time, Walla Walla, Washington manager Charles Thomsen noticed several players shedding tears.

They were not alone. Thomsen was doing the same thing. Similar scenes unfolded at various times after Grosse Pointe, Michigan; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Rancho Santa Margarita, California played their last Little League World Series games. The teams spent so much time together, achieved so much together that adults and players basically became families.

The tears and raw emotions were not because these teams will not win world championships. It was simply because their memorable runs were over. But what runs they were as each team reached the Series and finished among the world’s 16 best Little League teams.

“It’s such a great group of kids,” Thomsen said. “There were tears from me too because I was so honored to coach them and I wish I could coach them forever.”

The following is a look at the four teams who were eliminated at the Series from Saturday-Monday.

Grosse Pointe, Michigan

The Grosse Pointe Wood Shores Little League was the only American league other than Fairfield, Connecticut that had been at the Series before. Grosse Pointe played here in 1979 and 2013. Still, this year’s team set itself apart from those other teams.

This one became the best team in Grosse Pointe history.

Grosse Pointe lost its first two Series games, but became the first from its league to ever win a Series game when it beat Italy, 11-7 in Monday’s consolation game. Grosse Pointe overcame a 6-0 deficit and ended a string of six straight losses at the Series.

“It’s really exciting to be the first ones to win,” Tommy Schoeck said after going 3 for 3 with a home run against Italy.

“It’s crazy because it’s the last Little League game our team will play together. You try and do your best and it worked out.”

“It’s awesome. It was exciting.,” Jordan Arseneau, who hit a three-run home run, said. “A lot of times when we’re down in games we just keep fighting. We keep building the energy high and keep everyone cheering in the dugout.

Grosse Pointe gave its league, city and state plenty to cheer all summer. Grosse Pointe stormed to a state championship, outscoring opponents, 71-6. It lost its first game at the Great Lakes Regional tournament, but won four straight elimination games, beat perennial power Hamilton, Ohio in the semifinals and rallied late to beat undefeated Illinois and capture the title.

Grosse Pointe players have not been home since in more than three weeks. When they return it might hit the players how much they have meant to their community. The Detroit Tigers and Michigan State Spartans football team are both expected to honor the team and the team likely will being rewarded for quite some time.

“This isn’t over yet and they deserve it,” Grosse Pointe manager Jason Hill said. “I’m going to miss them. We are going to go our separate ways at age 13 but this experience being together this summer has been a pretty cool thing.”

Sioux Falls,

South Dakota

The Midwest champions wrote one of the all-time Little League Cinderella stories this summer. At this time last year, Little League did not exist in Sioux Falls. By October, Sioux Falls had a Little League charter and in its first season, Sioux Falls reached the Series.

Along the way, Sioux Falls beat perennial power Rapid City teams in states and three past Series qualifiers at the Midwest Regional. Sioux Falls finished 0-3 in South Williamsport but good look finding a league that has had enjoyed a better debut season than this one.

“I have a couple more nights with them and I’m going to enjoy these nights telling them I love them when they go to bed and turn the lights off and I’ll miss hearing, ‘I love you coach,’ back. That’s how we are as a team,” South Dakota coach Jeff Riley said. “It’s really cool and I’m just proud of every single one of them.”

Sioux Falls nearly rallied from a three-run deficit against Wallla Walla before losing a 4-3 heartbreaker and led Australia until the fifth inning Tuesday. A league that featured only 44 players carried 14 all-stars and all 14 produced their own highlight-reel moments along the way.

Just as important, this team set an immediate standard and immensely boosted its league’s future. Young children were shown wildly celebrating a walk-off regional win and it is likely all those aspiring players and many more will be eager to emulate what this team did. For a league that has only two fields and 44 players, this summer-long run could provide benefits that last years and/or decades.

“Some of these kids have won 48 games this summer. That’s incredible,” Riley said. “They are all amazing baseball players and hopefully this makes them burn a little more to be even more successful at the end of it.”

Walla Walla, Washington

Like Sioux Falls, Walla Walla made history this summer. No Walla Walla Valley Little League Major Division team ever before captured a state championship. This team did that and then kept going, adding the Northwest Regional championship and finishing among the top six U.S finishers. Walla Walla defeated Sioux Falls in an elimination game before taking a three-run lead against Connecticut in a 14-6 season-ending loss.

For a small town of only 32,132 people, this sure was some big-time stuff, especially as Walla Walla beat some of the perennial Seattle powers to make it happen.

“It’s really awesome,” Thomsen said. “I dreamed of being on this stage when I played, but we were never good enough. To do this is a dream come true.”

Walla Walla displayed its resilience throughout the summer, avenging a state tournament loss and beating 2010 Series qualifier Auburn in the final. Walla Walla also fought back through the loser’s bracket and beat Oregon, 4-3, to capture the Northwest Regional before winning one last elimination game against South Dakota.

The memories Walla Walla generated will last a lifetime. And the fun will continue for the remainder of the week. Walla Walla plans on staying at the Series until it ends. Call it a congratulations stay after achieving so much.

“We’re staying until they make us leave,” Thomsen said. “We’re in baseball Heaven right now. We’re going to swim, trade pins and watch some baseball. That is what this experience is all about.”

Rancho Santa Margarita,

California

Rancho Santa Margarita also left an indelible mark and became the first from its league to ever reach the Series. It traveled a tough road through the always difficult Southern California field, then consistently battled back and won big games at the West Regional tournament.

Rancho Santa Margarita entered the Series undefeated and won its first game over Walla Walla before losing to North Carolina and New Jersey. Some players on the team started their summers 50-0, a remarkable achievement for a historic team.

“That was a special experience,” California manager C.J. Ankrum said. “That was one of the best experiences any team could ever experience and I’m so thankful for my team.”

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