Beaverton stars reach U.S. title game
Murrayhill comes through in pool play and the U.S. semi to reach the U.S. title contest against Georgia on Saturday
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - So close.
Murrayhill gave its all in what turned out to be the team's World Series swan song Saturday night, battling Georgia's Columbus Northern Little League (the eventual World Series champion) for all it was worth.
But this time, for the first time in a long time, a Murrayhill comeback fell short.
The Murrayhill Little League Majors all-stars, facing Columbus Northern in the U.S. Championship game at the Little League World Series, fell behind early on Saturday, just as they had in their previous two Series victories.
And just as they had in those two previous wins, Murrayhill came storming back late in the game to tie the score.
But this time, Georgia had an answer that Murrayhill's previous two victims had not.
Right on the heels of Murrayhill's three-run fourth inning - an inning punctuated by Trevor Nix's two-run homer to left field - Georgia responded with one run in the top of the fifth and three more in the top of the sixth to pull away and win 7-3 before 25,200 fans at Lamade Stadium. In the process, Georgia secured the U.S. crown and a berth into the overall Series championship against Japan, the Asia representative. Georgia went on to beat Japan in the rain-delayed final by a 2-1 score on Monday.
'We had a few tears in the dugout after the game, but that's OK,' said Murrayhill manager Jeff Keller. 'These are 12 and 13-year-old kids and they just wanted to win this ballgame. But we can walk away as the second-best team in the U.S. and I'm proud of that.'
For their part, Murrayhill's players seem to rebound quickly following the loss, their attention more focused on what they'd accomplished than what they'd lost.
'We were kind of surprised just to make it here,' said first baseman Devon DeJardin. 'But we tried our hardest and we know that even if we lost, we're still stars.'
'We're feeling a little down. The team's down,' said left fielder Austin Perry, who came off the bench to single in his lone at-bat, knock in Murrayhill's first run and score its second. 'But they were just a good ballclub. They were the better team today.'
Georgia went about proving that fact right away Saturday afternoon, breaking through for three runs in the top of the first against Murrayhill ace Jace Fry (seven runs [six earned] on eight hits and six walks with six strikeouts).
Georgia got things going with two outs and Cody Walker aboard on a fielder's choice. From there, J.T. Phillips walked and Patrick Stallings followed with an RBI single to center field. Brady Hamilton came up next and sent a hard single past Murrayhill third baseman Toma Matisoff into left for a 2-0 edge, and Georgia made it 3-0 and Georgia made it 3-0 when Murrayhill shortstop Derek Keller couldn't handle Kyle Rovig's grounder.
And 3-0 is where the score stayed for the next three innings, though Murrayhill had a great chance to get on the scoreboard in its half of the first. In that at-bat, Fry led off with a single and Bryan Domogalla walked before Georgia pitcher J.T. Phillips (six hits and one walk with eight strikeouts) got Derek Keller on a strikeout and Lester robbed Sam Albert by making a fully extended grab of Albert's hard liner. Phillips then ended the threat by striking out Miguel Rivera.
But with Fry back on form after the first inning - he shut Georgia out in the second, third and fourth innings while striking out five in that span - Murrayhill still had time. The Beaverton stars finally took advantage of their opportunity in the bottom of the fourth when Albert led off with a looping opposite-field single to left, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Perry's single to center field.
Things got even more exciting for Murrayhill after that too. Phillips got the next two batters out - with first baseman Kyle Carter absolutely robbing DeJardin on a screaming line drive for the first out - but Trevor Nix made sure his team wasn't done yet. He stepped to the plate with two outs and launched a long high home run to left field that also brought Perry home to tie the game at 3-3.
'At first I thought I got a little under it, and then when I rounded first, I saw that the left fielder had stopped running so I knew it was gone,' Nix said.
'We thought about a lot of the close games that we had come back to win in the fifth and sixth innings,' Matisoff said. 'And we knew we just needed to get another one.'
But Georgia didn't die - not in the least. In the top of the fifth, Phillips walked, took second on a passed ball and scored when Hamilton looped a single into left field just past Derek Keller's outstretched arm for a 4-3 edge.
Murrayhill managed just a two-out Albert single in the bottom of the fifth, and when he couldn't score, Georgia went back on the attack. In the top of the sixth, Ryan Lang walked, took second when Nix's pickoff throw went awry and then third when Fry's first pitch to Carter - the first pitch of an intentional walk - turned into a wild pitch.
Lester then singled hard to center field to plate Lang, and Walker lined a double down the left field line - a ball very nearly caught by Perry - to bring home two more for the final 7-3 margin.
'Giving up three like that in the sixth - that took some of the steam out of the kids' eyes,' Jeff Keller said.
'We thought we'd come back. That was the thought,' Perry said. 'But they came back and put the ball in play.'
'Now we know how it feels,' Matisoff said of watching Georgia's late-game heroics.
And for the first time in a long time, a very, very long time, Murrayhill was out of the running for the biggest prize in Little League baseball.
'I've just got to say congratulations to (Georgia),' Jeff Keller said. 'Jace hasn't been hit like that before probably ever. But they're all winners in my eyes. They're all heroes.'
Albert went 2-for-3 and scored once to lead Murrayhill while Nix finished 1-for-3 with two RBIs. Walker was the only Georgia player with more than one hit - he finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and one run scored.