One play away. A bad hop here, an unlucky break there.

That’s all that separated the 13U MoundTime All-Star team from advancing out of pool play into the championship bracket at the Babe Ruth World Series in Williston, N.D.

Head coach Kevin Lovings said the 13Us just got ahead of the process a little bit. After winning their first game of the tournament by beating Fargo, N.D., 7-3, MoundTime lost its next three contests all in heartbreaking fashion.

MoundTime held late-inning leads in each of the three games only to see the contention get away. MoundTime 13U had El Segundo down to its last out in the seventh inning, but let the Southern California squad slip off the hook. The following game, Tri-Counties TX scored five unanswered runs to steal a seventh-inning decision away from the 13Us. by: COURTESY PHOTO: KEVIN LOVINGS - MoundTime 13Us Issac Lovings hustles down the first base line during the Babe Ruth Little World Series in Williston, N.D.

“Baseball’s got a funny script sometimes. Sometimes it works out in your favor, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Lovings. “They understand the importance of playing on that kind of stage. I believe these kids will grow from it, and they’ll be better baseball players. I really think the kids found out a lot about themselves by being in those situations.”

Bowing out early in the tourney was admittedly painful. The team had towering expectations and visions of transporting a trophy back to the Oregon. However, as Lovings reminded the team after its final 8-6 loss to Coventry, R.I., out of 300 squads nationwide, 13U was one of only 10 to get to the Babe Ruth Little League series. MoundTime’s regional and state championships will never be taken away, the Pacific University coach told his team. There could only be one national champion. It simply wasn’t MoundTime’s weekend to be.

“Every day in that tournament from Thursday on, there was a team that had the same talk that we had,” said Lovings. “It hurt being the first team to get it, but only one team was going to win that. Nine teams were going to walk away hurt because they worked so hard to get to this spot. That’s the nature of competition, but I’m really proud of the kids.”

MoundTime opened the tournament on absolute fire, scoring three runs in the first inning against Fargo and an additional trio in the third to go up 6-0. Cole Hoskins went 4-4 with four RBIs. Beaverton residents Connor Fajardo, Ian Cooney and Andrew Sirak all contributed as well. Fajardo walked twice and scored two runs. Cooney had an RBI, and Sirak notched two hits and scored twice.

Sirak won the batting title by hitting .667 over the course of the tournament. Hoskins took home a gold glove, was named to the all-defensive team and helped Sirak carry the offensive load. Beaverton’s Trey Werner had an RBI single against Tri-Counties TX. Beaverton residents Benny Baukman, Devin Eubanks and Issac Lovings all played and contributed.

“It was nice to see them get called out and represent the Northwest really well,” said Lovings. “I’m sure those kids would trade that in a heartbeat to make it to the final day, but they played well and to get recognized was a good accomplishment for them.”

Lovings said the team didn’t really know what to expect when its plane landed in a remote airport, seemingly in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota. But, when they drove to the ballpark in Williston and saw how the community rallied around the field and prepped it for play, it registered that the players were somewhere special. by: COURTESY PHOTO: KEVIN LOVINGS - MoundTime 13Us Cole Hoskins tags out a base runner at third base during the Babe Ruth Little World Series in Williston, N.D.

“They went all out,” said Lovings of Williston. “From the opening ceremonies, the field prep, the tournament directors. There were a lot of good coaches from different states talking baseball. It was quite the experience. It ramped up and it ramped up — the way it needed to.”

On top of the positive vibes from the town, 13U got to listen to NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson speak at the opening banquet. A Williston native who has a street named after him running through the heart of town, Jackson was actually a Little League manager who led Williston to a national championship in the 1980s.

“He talked to the kids about being in the moment and leaving it all out there,” recalled Lovings. “He said this is one of those opportunities that you’ll take away forever.”

The physical stature on some of the opposing teams was far and away different than anything the Beaverton players had seen before. Lovings said there was an El Segundo player hitting 385-foot homers. There were 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 180-pound behemoths walking around with full beards and yoking balls out of the park with relative ease.

“You saw potential D1 baseball players at this tournament,” said Lovings. “You could see these kids were developed and working on their bodies. There were some really, really good players there. It was like ‘Man, what a talented group of young baseball players.’ It was neat to see kids playing the game at a high level at the age of 13. It was refreshing to see.”

Looking back, Lovings said MoundTime worked hard on its off days, trying to fix the flaws that cost the team a pair of early round-robin games. The intensity was high in practice to the point that opposing coaches commented on how fundamentally sound 13U was and how efficient practices were. Yes, they didn’t have as much success as anticipated, but MoundTime represented the region with pride and class.

“We told the kids, ‘Playing at the World Series isn’t the biggest thing you’re ever going to do’,” said Lovings. “All of our kids are going to go on and do great things. We hope they grow up and are successful, but we told them, ‘You’ll never have a moment like this when you’re 13.’ They have this whole year to really brag about it, talk about it, say they were there.”

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