Experience paying off for Endwell, New York

No player hesitated and all uniformly answered.

When asked what their all-star goals were last June, the Maine-Endwell All-Stars made it clear it was Little League Baesball World Series or bust. And while many teams say that and never come close, these players knew it could be done. More than half almost proved it last year.

Six of the current 11 Endwell all-stars played in last year’s Mid-Atlantic Region tournament, the last stop on the road to South Williamsport. That fueled their fire and made the dream feel so much more attainable.

And now here Endwell is. Endwell not only is at the Series, but is three wins away from capturing a world championship. Endwell opened the Series 2-0 and played for a spot in the U.S. championship Wednesday night.

“At the first practice, we asked them what their goal is and they all said to get to Williamsport,” Endwell manager Scott Rush said. “Those six got a taste and knew what it took to get to that level. I’m not sure it was unfinished business, but they had that desire and hunger to make it to Bristol (for regionals) and try and take the next step.”

Mission accomplished.

Endwell romped to district, section and state championships while earning that coveted spot in Bristol. This time, Endwell went all the way, surviving a 1-0 contest against Delaware and then downing Washington, D.C., and Keystone, Pennsylvania, by a combined 14-4 in the last two games. Now, a league that has a proud tradition stands alone.

Endwell is the first team in its league’s history to reach the Series and the first to win games here. It has set a new standard and the seed really was planted last year.

“They just wanted to get back there (Bristol) and give it a shot,” said team mom Alicia Abbadessa, whose son Jude plays second base. “They worked so hard throughout the year between training in the offseason and playing travel ball and Little League. They put the extra hours in and in the back of their minds they wanted to get to Williamsport, but first they wanted to go game by game, tournament by tournament. They wanted that dream and knew it was achievable, but it was more just getting back there and getting another shot.”

By the time teams reach regionals they are receiving major league-like treatment. Almost all regional games now are televised and there are far more distractions at regionals than there were a decade ago. So as talented and deep as Endwell is, it had another advantage those other regional teams did not.

Endwell had players who had been there before and who had experienced everything. The big field, the bright lights and the TV cameras were no big deal because the six players had been there before and could prepare the first-timers. It showed too as all 11 players made big impacts and helped Endwell win another championship while improving to 19-0 this summer.

That streak now is 21 games and Endwell has outscored opponents, 248-34 this summer.

“That was an advantage, but with the quality of play at that level you can never be too prepared and I think the experience showed in the last two games when they made no errors,” Endwell President Mitch Gorton said. “Pitching and defense and timely hitting usually wins the day and they had that, but the team did a good job of living in a vacuum and putting those distrations aside and creating one inning at a time – and the results speaks for themselves.”

Most members of this team competed together when they were 10 and captured the state championship. The teams were broken up last year and six moved up to the major division. Now they are making beautiful music together again, combining the experience, talent and chemistry so well.

Endwell has taken first-inning leads in consecutive Series games against New England champ Rhode Island and Southeast titlist Tennessee while making no errors. Ryan Harlost, Michael Mancini and Abbadessa have provided excellent pitching and different players have delivered timely hits. The goal was reaching the Series and Endwell is making the most of the opportunity it coveted since last year. Again, the stage is not effecting players who have been through the spotlight before.

“They’re grounded. They don’t get too high or too low. They realize it’s a six-inning game and talk a lot on the field,” Rush said. “If we lose an inning we just say let’s win the next two and if we win more innings than we lose we’re going to win the game. They’ve done a good job embracing that approach.”

Series fans are embracing Endwell too. Endwell is about a 2-2 1/2 hour ride from Lamade Stadium so the Mid-Atlantic champ has become the defacto Series home team, much like Red Land did last year when the Pennsylvania champions reached the world final. Endwell drew more than 10,000 fans to the first Series game on a Thursday afternoon. Monday afternoon was even better as 16,641 watched it beat Tennessee.

A year ago, then manager Bill Bennett brought his Endwell team to watch the Series. The six returning players saw the games and the huge Red Land crowds up close. They could not help but dream about some day flipping roles and being Lamade’s main attraction.

Now, they are. So many are here to see Endwell. They are the stars now and a seed that was planted last year has grown into something mighty big.

Endwell now is living the dream.

“You come down here every year and think, ‘I wish I could play on this field,’ and then all the sudden you do and it’s like, ‘wow, it’s like this?'” said Mancini, who played on last year’s team. “You’re just amazed.”