South Riding is 1st Virginia team at LLWS since 1994
Loudoun South American Little League put together a remarkable run last summer, making history along the way and playing into August. The only thing missing was the perfect ending.
That came this summer.
A year after coming within a victory of reaching the Little League World Series, Loudoun South American broke down that final obstacle Aug. 7 when it defeated defending champion Peachtree City, Georgia and captured the Southeast championship. While doing so, the league from South Riding became the first Virginia team to reach the Series since 1994 and continued its league’s dominant run. It also avenged last year’s title game defeat against the same opponent and continued building on the momentum last year’s team generated.
“I hope by what we did last year, we kind of set the tone there. I would hope it played a part in giving this team the confidence, thinking we saw what last year’s team did and we can do the same thing and make take it a step farther. Seeing this team take that next step is really exciting,” last year’s manager Sean Liazma said. “We had great support last year and to be back home and see our community come together and be there for these kids is really great to see.”
A year ago, Loudoun lost early in districts before rallying to capture the District 16 championship. It then became the first District 16 to win a state title and was a timely hit or two from reaching the Series before eventual U.S. finalist Peachtree City defeated it, 3-0 in the final. The 2019 team features no returning players, but this group won an 11-year old state title last year and knew that reaching the Series was not a far-fetched dream since their friends came so close to reaching it.
This Loudoun team traveled a similar difficult summer-long road, losing its second district game before reeling off six wins in seven nights. It did not lose again while reaching the Series, beating Peachtree City twice and giving a rising Virginia Little League power another historic achievement. Loudoun left no doubt that it was the Southeast’s best team, routing the five-time defending Georgia state champion, 12-2. Combined these Loudoun teams have won 23 elimination games the past two summers.
“We were definitely sitting on the shoulder of giants from last year’s team and teams before that which had success,” Loudoun South American president Joe Soricelli said. “That set the stage for getting us to this year and motivating us to become the next step.”
“We were definitely following that run last year and rooting Sean and that team on. When we got up in Georgia this year I was in constant contact with Sean because he’s our biggest supporter and he has helped us a lot,” Loudoun manager Alan Bowden said. “It’s such a special group of kids. They are great baseball players, but they work so hard and care about each other. They cheer more for their teammates’ success than their own. I figured beating Peachtree twice would be a real uphill battle and for the kids to show up like they did and put it on them, it was a special day.”
Last year’s team helped plant the seeds for this team’s success. The 2018 squad also won the Southeast championship as 10-year olds and ushered in a fabulous league run. Loudoun started flourishing at all levels and swept the District 16 Little League championships for a second straight year. As 11-year olds last year, this team won a state title. Combine that experience with talent and watching last year’s near-Series run and Loudoun was optimistic entering the summer.
Ironically, it was the league’s other division, Loudoun National which handed Loudoun American its only loss this season, beating it early in the district tournament. Instead of sulking, Loudoun stormed back and outscored six state tournament opponents, 72-7. During that run it also rallied from a sixth-inning deficit and beat Cave Spring American in the semifinals, 6-5 in seven innings. Loudoun reached the Southeast final when it overcame another sixth-inning deficit against Peachtree City in the winner’s bracket final, winning 6-5 on Chase Obstgarten’s walkoff double.
It has been a memorable run and, really, it began a year ago. The 2018 Loudoun American All-Stars opened the door and the 2019 squad kicked it down.
“I think it began in 2016 when our 9-10’s won the region. From there, that set the tone that we can compete with anyone in the region and it has really progressed from there.,” Liazma said. “We felt like our team last year broke through that barrier for our league and district and I hope we played a part in setting the tone for these guys to finish the job.”
“I think the 7 p.m. (winner’s bracket) game against Peachtree City was a turning point. They shook everything off and got after it and played an incredible game. To beat them in that walkoff fashion was the pinnacle for this team in terms of the way they played through districts and states and then the region. It was really special,” Bowden said. “I know it was special for Sean, too. He really wanted us to vanquish that Peachtree City team that we couldn’t get past last year. I was really happy to beat them as much for last year’s team as ours.”
Like a year ago, an army of fans are following this Loudoun team that the locals refer to as “The Big Red Machine.” South Riding’s local restaurant Glory Days is often filled with people watching each Loudoun game. Fans are not just watching this team but also remembering last year’s that helped fuel the run. Together, those two teams have become one as the community rallies around Loudoun and celebrates a league that is fast becoming one of Virginia’s best.
The news helicopters hovering above the Loudoun South field two days following the Southeast championship started showing the players how much their performance is captivating the community. They are receiving Major League treatment. This is quite a team and Loudoun South is becoming quite a league.
“It’s super exciting,” Soricelli said. “Through states and regionals the community support has been really great and now it has really gotten to a whole new level.”
“It’s so hard to get to the Little League World Series and I feel incredibly fortunate to be one of the teams. That it’s been a quarter of a century since a Virginia team has been here makes it even more special for the kids and Loudoun County,” Bowden said. “I can’t say enough about the community and Loudoun and the league. The support given these kids is unmatched. They’re making it special for the kids.”
That feeling is reciprocal.