It could have been a Cinderella moment.
They were the underdogs to win district, underdogs in the state tournament and underdogs in the state championship game.
But for the Ahwatukee Little League 10-11 team, the clock struck midnight before it could complete the story.
“We went beyond everyone’s expectations, and I have no regrets about finishing second in state,” said manager Jon “Boomer” Whitmyer.
The team fell 16-11 to Canyon Del Oro — a team that scored 16 runs in consecutive games to win the title.
“They just hit everything we threw at them,” said pitcher Dean Bittner, “and we couldn’t get anything going.”
It looked like the Ahwatukee All-Stars were going to claw their way all the way back after overcoming an 11-2 deficit, but couldn’t close the gap closer than five runs.
“I think we played our best. I heard some people saying we could have done better, but CDO was just better than us,” Bittner said.
He said the feeling didn’t really sit in when the final out was made, and the tears came later, but Whitmyer knew the tears weren’t caused by defeat.
“They weren’t mad they lost; they were mad they don’t get to see each other anymore,” he said. “We spent every day together for 37 days, and a lot of us were down in Tucson on Sunday (July 13) before the tournament even started. Every one of those kids wanted to be out there.”
Looking back on the tournament, Bittner only had one word to describe the experience.
“It was fun. We had fun playing for state, I had fun pitching, everyone in the dugout was cheering and happy to be there,” he said.
Second place is believed to be the best finish any of the ALL 10-11 year-old teams have ever had. Whitmyer said the postseason was a good experience for the team after going 12-2 overall, including the District 13 win.
“The first couple of games, we won big like we had been in districts, then we lost to Arrowhead and the kids realized how good some of these teams were,” the manager said. “But they bounced right back and eliminated West Flagstaff the next night and Arrowhead in the rematch two days later.
“Then against CDO, we just started slow, but they never gave up. We got those runs in the middle, but in the end, we just couldn’t match them.”
For Bittner and his teammates, the memories they made in both the district and state tournaments will stay with them forever. With everyone on the team being 11, they will all advance to the Major division next season.
“I’m looking forward to moving up with everyone, doing what we did this year and trying to win state,” Bittner said. “I just want to keep having fun with them.”
Whitmyer said whoever is fortunate enough to manage the kids next summer will have a great foundation with which to work.
“This is a really good team, and I think what they did this season really opened a lot of eyes to what the potential is,” he said.
He added that word must have gotten out about how well the team was doing because the community showed up in droves.
“We had a lot of people from Ahwatukee come down, people who didn’t have kids or friends on the team,” he said. “It was really great that the community got behind us. I know it meant a lot to the kids.”
• Will Argeros is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.