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Massapequa, New York continues to make statements

Metro Region Champion Little League team from Massapequa, N.Y. rides in the Little League Grand Slam Parade in downtown Williamsport, Pa., on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. The Little League World Series baseball tournament, featuring 20 teams from around the world, starts on August 17, 2022 in South Williamsport, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Massapequa Coast Little League’s 12-year-old all-stars never had captured a state championship. So, when Massapequa opened the New York state tournament against hometown favorite Webster, many outside the community did not expect that to change.

What mattered is Massapequa believed and it made believers out of everyone there, capturing that elusive championship. That earned it a spot in the Metro Regional tournament which fielded multiple-time Little League World Series teams from Cumberland, Rhode Island; Fairfield, Connecticut; and Toms River New Jersey. Combined, those teams had made 10 Series appearances.

Again, the historic group from New York bested them all. Start spreading the news because Massapequa is one of the world’s top 20 Little League programs and has reached Little League’s grandest stage, playing in South Williamsport. The Metro Region champions make their debut Friday against either Hawaii or Washington while becoming the first Long Island team since 1978 to play here.

“It just clicked at the right time. We had that opening game against Webster and came back to win in eight innings and kind of made a statement,” Massapequa manager Roland Clark said. “We had a special feeling and we were the team to walk off the field victorious. Nobody had ever heard of Massapequa and we weren’t picked as one of the favorites. At regionals nobody thought we could potentially beat the storied program of Toms River twice, so it’s very fulfilling game to see how the boys have responded in the spotlight.”

That spotlight has grown bigger with each win, but so too has the team’s focus. Massapequa lost only a pool play game in a loaded state tournament and entered the Series riding a five-game winning streak after beating Toms River and Fairfield three times at regionals.

Suddenly, the blue-collar town with the name which may stump a genius at a spelling bee is making itself known throughout the country.

“We’re getting tremendous support and there’s tremendous outreach. We’re getting it from all over the place, especially throughout the local community,” Massapequa Coast Little League president Craig Garland said. “It puts Massapequa on the map. A lot of times people don’t know how to say Massapequa or spell it and now everyone is learning how.”

All those watching this team throughout the season have learned exactly what has helped it make history. Reflecting its community, the players and coaches have spent countless hours honing their crafts and preparing for this summer. A team which was eliminated in districts last year, improved, believed and developed brilliant chemistry.

And when it came time to hit the field last June, Massapequa was ready and has surged ever since. Every player has his fingerprints on the four championship banners earned this summer. Take one of them away and Massapequa would not be here.

This team has the talent, but it also had the drive and camaraderie. It’s an all for one, one for all mentality. That was the formula which helped Massapequa slay the giants in and out of state to take its league where it never has gone before.

“I’ve had the majority of these boys since they were 8. Just to see where they started and where they are now at the pinnacle and reaching the ultimate goal for every Little Leaguer is unbelievable,” said Clark, who played for Massapequa International when it won the 1989 New York state title. “It’s very special. The kids are enjoying the time in the spotlight. It’s well-deserved. They put a lot of work into the team and into growing as individual players.”

Massapequa has pursued those goals with a relentless energy. This team’s immense talent is exceeded by its will. The Metro champions have repeatedly come back to win this summer, avenging its loss against West Nyack in the state championship before winning three hard-fought games against the perennial powers at regionals.

Joey Lionetti threw a no-hitter in the 4-0 championship win against five-time Series qualifier Toms River. He was backed by a super defense and balanced offense which produced timely hits. As the team did its thing, fans in Bristol and back home did their thing, making noise and providing moral support.

Approximately 600 fans travelled to Bristol and watched the championship live. About the same number pulled up lawn chairs and blankets back home at the Little League field and watched on a large screen with surround sound, giving it a Drive-in movie theater quality.

There they watched their beloved team continue producing a summer blockbuster.

This is a team which has captivated not just its community, but all of Long Island. It has become not just Massapequa’s team, but New York’s team. What a team it is, comprised of players who have excelled as much off the field as they have on it.

“It’s about league pride. This baseball team represents the community so well. It’s not some random baseball team with kids from here there and everyone. It’s a town team and it has the town energized,” said Garland, the league’s president since 2006. “We have a great community and this just brings that community together even tighter. These guys are an amazing team and what I love about the team is that a different hero steps up every day.”

“They play hard and they do it in a really humble, respectful way,” Clark said. “They love playing with their friends and people are just very happy that they’re getting this opportunity. The town is living the moment through them which is really special to see.”

Although this team captured Massapequa Coast Little League’s first 12U state title, it has long been a decorated league. Garland said the league’s teams have produced 40 district championships, 17 Long Island titles and eight state crowns over the last decade.

Now this hard-working, historic 12U team has added the biggest achievement yet. The future looks strong, too, with the current 11-year-old all-stars having won state titles in consecutive years.

It certainly helps moving forward that these new Metro champions have provided a blue print on reaching the Series. Other Massapequa teams may some day advance to this stage, but this squad always will be the first.

What a legacy it has built.

“This is something they’ll carry for the rest of their lives. They’ll be reflecting on this in their high school years and college years and so on. I envision them having 10 and 20-year reunions and things like that..

“This will bond them together forever.”

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