A tight game went back and forth, bringing wild emotional swings for the players and fans. But in the end, the Ahwatukee Little League 12-year-old all-star squad suffered a heartbreaking loss in the District 13 regional championship game.
Chandler National South defeated Ahwatukee, 4-3, in a hard-fought battle on July 7 to claim the district title and advance to the state tournament in Scottsdale that begins July 17.
Tied at 2 in the seventh -- and final -- inning, Chandler National South got a bases-clearing double in the top of the inning for two runs.
Ahwatukee pushed a run across in the bottom of the inning before solid pitching by Chandler South closed the door and ended Ahwatukee’s season.
Chandler Coach Joe Strazz said he hopes that his pitchers will lead his team to success in the next round.
“That, and defense, too, are going to keep us in games. The kids have worked very hard for the last several years to be at this moment, so we want to do whatever we can,” Strazz said.
District 13, with talented teams from Ahwatukee, Chandler and Tempe, always is among the state’s most competitive. Teams from Chandler and Ahwatukee have won state and regional titles and advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, during the past decade.
Ahwatukee Little League coach Tim Romaine believes the district representative again has a strong chance of winning the state tournament, as well as the regional tourney in San Bernardino, California.
However, the play only gets better at each level, as Romaine knows.
“Every out counts, every pitch counts and every at-bat counts, so you can’t give away pitches or outs on defense,” Romaine said before the tournament began. “If you approach it that way, it does make a difference, because in bracket play, if you lose there’s no tomorrow.
“In club tournaments that we play all the time, there’s always another one coming up the next weekend or in the future. But, if you get bounced out of this, you’re not playing Little League anymore.”
The chance to play against the state’s toughest competition was a great life experience for the players, coaches say.
“You want to challenge yourself. That’s something that builds character,” said Tempe South coach Chad Ackerley, another team that fought for a spot atop the District 13 podium.
Elsewhere in the EastValley, teams from Mesa and Queen Creek also punched their tickets to the state Little League Baseball tournament after winning their district championships last week.
The 12-year-old all-star squad from Red Mountain Little League in Mesa took home the District 7 championship with a 6-0 win over Four Peaks Little League in the final.
“It was kind of my rubber match with them because they beat me last year, and I beat them two years ago, so it was a good feeling to win the tournament in my third and last time going against them,” Red Mountain coach Phillip Moore said.
And Queen Creek went on an undefeated run to win in District 14, which contains several Gilbert teams. Queen Creek, among the team that Mesa will play at state, allowed just five runs in as many games of bracket play, and beat Gilbert American Little League, 17-2, for the district title on July 2.
Mesa’s Moore understands that the teams at the state tournament will be much tougher on a nightly basis than the level before.
“The competition is going to be a lot stiffer. I’ve actually watched a few teams. Queen Creek, for instance, is going to be really tough, and we’re scheduled to face them in pool play in Scottsdale, and they’re tougher than a lot of teams we’ve faced,” Moore said.
Moore said that the winner in Scottsdale could be the team that makes the fewest mistakes on routine plays and allows fundamentals to outweigh nerves and pressure.
“We’re very confident in our defense and our pitching, and that they will carry us against tough teams,” he said. “Defense wins games, and I would put my defense against any offense in the state.”