Miller’s mound success a key for Delaware’s fairy tale

Ryan Miller first started playing baseball two years ago. Friday, he hit an RBI triple at the Little League Baseball World Series as Newark, Del., defeated Urbandale, Iowa, 6-3.

Miller’s fairy tale ascension reflects that of his entire team’s journey. A team that manager John Ludman hoped simply could compete at districts suddenly is making a run at a world championship. Mid-Atlantic champ Delaware tries earning a spot in the U.S. field winners’ bracket final today when it plays West champ Chula Vista, Calif.

“Even if we hadn’t won the game, the kids would be happy because this is a great experience,” Ludman said. “That’s why the kids don’t feel a lot of pressure, because they’re just happy to be here. Winning is very nice, and probably nicer for the coaches than the players because the kids are going to have fun no matter what.”

Newark is only the second team from Delaware to reach the Series and the first since 2003. It has been a surprising run because there was a time when the squad really had only one starting pitcher – Nathan Hardcastle.

Friday’s winner, Joe Davis, battled a lower back injury throughout the regular season and rarely pitched in districts. In a pitch-count era, there was no way Delaware could survive with only one strong starter.

Enter Miller.

The baseball novice suddenly became an outstanding pitcher. Davis helped, too, showing Miller how to add more pitches to his arsenal. Miller helped Delaware survive districts, Davis grew healthy and Delaware has been rolling ever since. Friday, the Mid-Atlantic champion scored five runs in the top of the first inning, delivering six hits.

And for some on the team, there never was a doubt.

“I thought we could do that,” said first baseman Eric Ludman, who hit an RBI double to start the scoring. “We have a good hitting team, so I thought we could do it.”

Following the state championship, Lud-man publicly predicted his team would reach the Series. No matter the odds, this team always has believed it could achieve greatness.

Now it has.

“This is a very loose team. It’s been their trademark forever,” John Ludman said. “When they were out there dancing with Dugout before the game, they would have done that even if Dugout had not come over. I didn’t expect them to get rattled even though this was a huge crowd. That’s just the way they are.”

Delaware never buckled Friday after Iowa rallied and kept threatening to come back and steal the game. Davis did not allow a run after the first inning, surrendering only one hit in 4 1/3 innings.

A player who thought he might not even get to pitch in all-stars shined on the world’s biggest Little League stage.

“It felt pretty good,” Davis said. “After we got the lead I wasn’t as nervous. I knew I could give up a couple of runs and still be fine.”

Delaware is more than fine these days. It is one of the world’s best teams. The fairy tale continues.

“It really is (beyond his dreams),” John Ludman said. “We love this group of kids.”