Virginia faced some early obstacles
South Riding, Virginia finds itself one victory from reaching the U.S. Championship after routing its first two Little League World Series opponents.
Two games into districts, the Loudoun South American Little League found itself one loss from seeing its all-star run quickly end.
As great as Loudoun South has been this summer and as strong as its competition has been, it faced some of its biggest obstacles in early July while fighting through the District 16 tournament. Dulles National beat Loudoun in its second district game and Loudoun had to win six games in seven nights just to survive that tournament.
But it has not lost since and it might be that district tournament which served as Loudoun South American’s Series launching pad.
“It’s a blessing and a curse. You don’t want to be in the loser’s bracket, but it allowed us to stay focused and never let up and have that mantra that playing every day will make us stronger,” Loudoun South American manager Alan Bowden said. “We played a lot more baseball than these other teams. We played 22 games in all-stars just to get here. These kids just never quit.”
That has been evident the last two summers. A year ago, Loudoun South American had to win seven state tournament games in eight days en route to reaching the Southeast Regional final. It has won 22 elimination games these past two seasons, showing that these Loudoun South American teams are every bit as tough as they are talented.
Those early District 16 battles have provided a boost, too. Loudoun South American also made big comebacks during states and regionals before throwing consecutive no-hitters at the Series and reaching Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final.
“They have been battle-tested for sure. They dropped games early and have had to come through and make a big run at it,” Loudoun South American Little League President Joe Soricelli said. “Some of that adversity helps solidify them. They know they are always in it. They never give up no matter the situation.”
Ironically, one of this team’s most stern challenges all summer came against its sister league. The Loudoun South American played the Loudoun South National all-stars late in the districts and faced one of the toughest pitchers they have seen all summer. That game was scoreless in the fifth inning before Loudoun South American broke through scored in the fifth, chased a pitcher throwing in the low 70s with a nasty curveball and captured the District 16 title.
Had that game gone the other way, the Loudoun South community might still be celebrating a remarkable summer run. It might just have been cheering for a different Loudoun South team.
“Our sister team is incredible. These guys all play together and they are all on the same travel team together and they all are in our same community and both sides of the league are incredibly strong. I really think that had Loudoun South National won, I think they would have gone on and won the state tournament.”
“It’s amazing because we have very good teams in districts,” pitcher Justin Lee said after combining on a no-hitter in Loudoun South American’s Series debut against Rhode Island. “We feel very fortunate to come out of it.”
Loudoun South American was cruising through states until it ran into Cave Springs in the semifinals. Cave Springs led 3-2 entering the sixth inning and was two outs from ending Loudoun South American’s season. Again, this deep, balanced and tough team dug deep.
Chase Obstgarten stole home on a throw back to the pitcher and Lee homered an inning later as Loudoun South rallied for a dramatic 5-4 win. It then thumped Fairfax in the final, giving the league its second straight state championship.
Following a similar pattern, Loudoun South American trailed defending Southeast champion Peachtree City, Georiga by a run in the bottom of the sixth of the regional winner’s bracket final. This time, Obstgarten hit a two-run walkoff double and Loudoun South American won, 6-5. Two days later Loudoun South American was Series-bound for the first time, becoming the first Virginia team to reach the Series since 1994 as it routed Peachtree City, 12-2.
“They are just a very tenacious group of kids. They love each other and they play for each other,” Bowden said. “They share in the joy of their teammates’ successes more than their own and that is a nice thing to see.”
That has continued at the Series with Loudoun South American extending its winning streak to 22 games. The Southeast champions blanked Rhode Island 3-0 and thumped Minnesota, 11-0 in four innings last Sunday. Lee, Liam Thyen and Obstgarten combined on a no-hitter against Rhode Island and Lee threw a no-hitter against Minnesota.
Loudoun South American has not made an error and both starters and reserves have delivered timely hits. This team is showing exactly why it is so good and how it has become one of the three best U.S. Little League Baseball teams.
Just do not go thinking this run has been easy. Loudoun South American has paid the price and is now reaping the benefits.
During the Minnesota game, the Pittsburgh Pirates arrived and watched Loudoun South American play. Its players immediately noticed the Major Leaguers were the ones watching them for once and they made quite a statement.
“I saw Josh Bell and was like, ‘oh my gosh!,” Thyen said. “I saw him walking by and all the players walking behind him and was like, ‘I hope we win this game and they can see what we’re capable of.'”