It was a bittersweet night for the Ahwatukee Little League All-Stars as the Minors team advanced state while the Major team was eliminated on Thursday night in the District 13 tournament.
A mob, a handshake, a picture, a banner, a victory lap and silly string was the postgame celebration for the younger team, which defeated Chandler National South 7-3 at Tempe Sports Complex.
The postgame atmosphere was a bit more dour a little later when the ALL Major squad fell 9-3 to Chandler National North.
The road to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series may have ended early but that doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright as the Minors won the district tournament for the second year in a row.
It started slow, however, after starter Beau Ankeney surrendered three runs in the top of the first inning, until the 11-year-olds came thundering back with five of their own.
“Our motto all year has been ‘next pitch, win innings, and wait for the next pitch,’ and that’s what I told the kids when they came to the bench,” said manager Jon “Boomer” Whitmyer.
Dean Bittner came on in relief during the inning and blanked Chandler the rest of the way, getting his team one step closer to repeating as champions.
“I wasn’t really thinking that much. I just paid attention to my coaches and worked through it,” Bittner said.
The Minors team capped off the summer with a perfect record, and will travel to Tucson to represent District 13 in the state tournament, starting July 14.
“I never thought we’d be 7-0 with over 100 runs scored,” Whitmyer said. “They came together quickly and all really like each other. I’ve never seen a group of kids like this before.”
The manager said he’s looking forward to making the trip south with his team, which he said is all about pitching.
“I’m going to go with my three main guys, Brennan Pongratz, Beau Ankeney, and Dean Bittner,” he said.
Though Ankeney was shaky in this outing, Whitmyer knows what the young man is capable of and is confident in his abilities on the rubber.
“I’m so proud of these kids; they played their hearts out,” Whitmyer said.
Bittner is confident about the upcoming tournament, and echoed his coach’s feeling of excitement about going.
“I feel good going into state,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Whitmyer said he couldn’t believe how well his team turned out, but was quick to say it wasn’t just his doing.
“It takes a lot to do this and I’d just like to thank my coaches Todd Oster and Brock Robertson and all the parents of Ahwatukee who have made this an unbelievable month,” added the manager.
The Major All-Stars had a very different postgame, just a handshake and a team huddle after losing in the finals yet again.
A four-run fifth inning proved to be too large a hole to dig out of, despite a good showing from the offense.
“I don’t think the wind ever fell out of the sails,” said manager Dan McKeon. “We were right in it, even in the bottom of the sixth inning. We got the run; unfortunately, got a double play too.”
He said Chandler pitched and hit really well, but it was his team’s own mistakes that wound up being the difference in the end.
“We got (the score) down to a couple, but left the ball up in the zone, and you can’t do that against great hitters,” McKeon said.
Of the 13-player roster, 12 have now aged out, including McKeon’s son. The manager said he wished it could have lasted longer, but can’t think of a better way to spend the summer
“It’s been 25 days since we started, and it’s been great. We all talked in the huddle and we all had a great time. It’s a great bunch of kids who came together,” he said.
• 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.