Rhode Island, Cali never stopped fighting

New England Region champion Warwick, Rhode Island, and West titlist Chula Vista, California, ended their Little League World Series the way they started them.

Both teams lost their final Series games in heart-breaking fashion Tuesday, but both fought back, made clutch plays and pursued victory as hard as possible.

They did not win, but in defeat both teams delivered performances that symbolized who they are and how they achieved so much.

“Sports teaches about life lessons and they learned a bunch,” Rhode Island manager Ken Rix said. “They learned that hard work and dedication counts for something and they know now they can achieve great things.”

“They have to keep their heads up,” California manager Jorge Camarillo said. “The run we’ve been on is a dream come true and I told them on the field after we won (the West championship) that win or lose from here on out, I was proud of them.”

Both teams fought back last Saturday after dropping their Series openers and blanked Oregon and Texas, respectively, in their next games. Rhode Island was two outs from reaching the U.S. Final Four, but Iowa rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth and won 3-2 after Kenny Rix had hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the sixth.

This Warwick team, however, made history just being at the Series. No Warwick North Little League team ever had reached the Series. No Warwick North team even had captured a state championship since 1985. But this team navigated a tough Rhode Island field, beating perennial powers such as Lincoln and Cranston, which have a combined four Series appearances. It edged Lincoln in the state final, 7-6, when Kenny Rix hit a walk-off, two-run double.

Rhode Island twice rallied to win at the New England regional, scoring seven sixth-inning runs and beating Massachusetts, 10-7, on Kenny Rix’s walk-off grand slam. Rhode Island kept finding ways to win when situations looked bleak and different players kept delivering up and down the lineup.

This team did not reach its ultimate goal and capture a world championship. Still, it accomplished something more meaningful and leaves behind quite a legacy.

“I’ll always remember the discipline and dedication they showed to get here. These kids worked their tail off to get here. They didn’t get here by chance,” Ken Rix said. “They lived the dream this summer. We let them know (afterward) that we’re a family and they are friends for a lifetime now. This will always be something they can reflect back on. These kids have left some of their own records.”

So did California.

This team built on the tremendous Chula Vista Little League tradition and proved it was as tough as it is talented. The West champion won eight straight elimination games during a summer-long run and reached the Series despite losing its first game in a double-elimination Southern California state tournament.

“We’re not the kind of team that folds after a loss,” shortstop Ali Camarillo said. “We keep fighting.”

California nearly made it 9-0 in elimination games before losing a 5-4, seven-inning thriller to Southeast champion Goodlettsville, Tennessee, Tuesday night. California trailed 2-0 in the fifth inning, but Lucas Marrujo hit a game-tying home run and provided excellent relief pitching. The West champ literally was inches from winning in the sixth but a remarkable throw and tag by Tennessee’s Isaiah Page and Tanner Jones forced extra innings. Tennessee scored two runs in the seventh, but California fought back again, putting two runners on with one out. But this time, Tennessee turned a game-ending double play and prevented California’s Comeback Kids from moving on.

Not that the ending diminished what California achieved. A championship would have been nice, but wherever the destination ended, the journey here always would be the most fun part.

“It was the fulfillment of a dream,” Camarillo said. “I wouldn’t have minded one more game, but we’re here. They took us all for a ride.”