Connecticut reflects on great run

As the West Region champion Chula Vista, Calif., players celebrated winning Saturday’s U.S. championship, New England champ Westsport, Conn., manager Tim Rogers gathered his players in the right field grass.

This was not lecture time. It was a time of reflection. California won the national championship, 12-1. But do not expect the loss to diminish Connec-ticut’s accomplishments.

From where Rogers was standing, it still was time to celebrate.

“I wanted the guys to immediately celebrate what we’ve accomplished,” Rogers said. “We want to celebrate the success we’ve had and put this one in the rearview mirror.”

His team has enjoyed more success than any other in Westport history. It also became the first New England team to play in a U.S. final since Saugus, Mass., in 2003.

Today, Connecticut has a chance to become New England’s highest-placed Series finisher in the 21st century. Connecticut faces Mexico in the consolation game at 11 a.m. at Lamade Stadium. The two previous New England teams to reach the U.S. final lost the consolation game so another accomplishment is there for the taking.

“The kids are really looking forward to playing an International game. They were already talking about Mexico,” Rogers said. “I think we’ll have fun with that.”

Connecticut has had a lot of fun this summer, winning 20 games and entering the Series undefeated. California is the only team to beat Connecticut, but the New England champion was an out away from beating Chula Vista last Wednesday.

“They play well. We knew we had our work cut out for us,” California manager Rick Tibbett said. “Give them a lot of credit. They have come a long way.”

Connecticut also won one of the most exciting Series games in recent memory just to reach Saturday’s national championship. Connecticut overcame a seven-run fifth-inning deficit and edged Washington, 14-13 in seven innings on Friday.

That win, more than any this summer, symbolized what this team is all about. That is the one the players and their fans always will remember more than any other.

“We always pick each other up and we have fun doing it,” pitcher/infielder Chad Knight said after delivering both the game-tying home run and walk-off single. “That’s why we’re a team.”

“After such a tough loss (Wednesday), that win epitomized what the kids are all about. Their competitiveness is amazing,” Rogers said. “To battle back and stick with it the way they did, how can you not love these guys?”

Most in Connecticut and the New England Region do. Saturday’s result does not change that.

Connecticut wants to win today, but the celebration continues. It has performed better than any team from its state this century and having the opportunity to play an International power on Little League’s biggest stage seems a proper send-off.

And even after it’s over, do not expect the celebration to end. There are a lot of fans back home who are yearning to see their little heroes return.

“We’re going to have fun and we’re going to play hard like we do every other game,” Rogers said.

That has become the Westport way.