Underdog Tigers Land Little League Title
Championship Game Held on Saturday at Veira Park
By MAX HART
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile lit Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.
- From Casey at the Bat
by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
William Stewart urgently made his way to the batter's box in the third inning of the little league championship game on Saturday.
Around him, anxious mothers and nervous coaches shouted in the warm, summer air. Chants of "Let's Go Will" resonated from the first base dugout. Signs reading "Let's Go Tigers!" waved in the stands. The smell of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs wafted toward home plate from beyond the left field fence.
Practice swings came rapid fire from the young slugger, the small aluminum bat twisting further around his blue Dodgers jersey with each violent stroke. Stewart stepped up to the plate and surveyed the situation: the bases were loaded, the tying run was standing on second base, and there was only one out. He steadied the bat above his right shoulder.
Tension was mounting at Veira Park in Oak Bluffs.
Only moments earlier, Stewart, the Dodger's ace pitcher who led his team to a perfect 15-0 record this season, had allowed the two runs that gave the opposing Tigers a 2-0 lead - a position he and his team were not used to being in. Now Stewart was staring his chance at redemption right in the face. His attention focused on the pitcher pacing behind the mound. The grip on his bat tightened and his gaze hardened. He stepped into the box.
It was perhaps the seminal moment in the game. One had the feeling those undefeated Dodgers were about to break loose against the underdog Tigers, who finished the regular season with a 7-8 record but snuck into the championship with three straight wins in the playoffs.
On the mound stood Peter Keaney, the Tigers shortstop who had just swapped roles with starting pitcher Kevin Galligan. Keaney, a right-hander, looked to his catcher and paused. The umpire crouched. The cacophony receded. The pitch was on its way.
With a loud ping, Stewart connected, ripping a line drive that seemed destined for the gap in left field. A roar erupted from behind the Dodgers' dugout, and the runners bolted homeward from their bases. Keaney watched helplessly as the ball sailed past him.
But Galligan, the newly installed shortstop, ranged to his left and snared the ball from its flight. Caught in mid-stride, the runners stopped and feverishly retreated to their bases. But Galligan was a step quicker, and tagged out the runner at second before he could scamper back to the base. Just like that, the inning was over. With an improbable double play, the Tigers got out of the inning and held onto their lead.
Another rally was quashed. The underdogs were winning.
And so it went for the mighty Dodgers on a cloudy Saturday afternoon. In a well-played game that featured several outstanding defensive plays, the Tigers knocked off the undefeated Dodgers 2-0 to claim the little league championship.
"You guys played a heck of a game, and if we lost, it would have been my fault, not yours," a choked up Tigers head coach Marc Rivers told his team afterward as he handed out game balls.
Little league games are not always known for stellar defense or exceptional pitching, but this game had both. Overcoming strong pitching by Stewart, the Tigers stunned the hundreds who had showed up for the season's last game by holding the Dodgers scoreless through the six innings.
The Tigers scored the game's only two runs with two out in the top of the third inning. Jock Cooperrider singled and went to second on an error before stealing third base. He scored on a wild pitch from Stewart, followed by Kim Cooperrider on a bloop single down the right field line from Ben Nivala.
Stewart pitched the whole game and finished with 13 strikeouts. Galligan and Keaney combined for the shutout for the Tigers.
A key to keeping the powerful Dodgers off the board was the unusual tactic of intentionally walking hard-hitting catcher Ben Ciciora all three times he came up to bat - twice to load the bases. Ciciora, a tall, powerful hitter, was the only player to knock it out of the park this season, and Coach Rivers said he didn't want to take any chances.
"That kid can really hit, and we didn't want to let him beat us, so we took the bat out of his hands," Coach Rivers said. "For us to win the game, it proved to be the right decision."
The moves didn't play well with everyone, however; Coach Rivers was heavily booed by the Dodger fans.
But in the end, the Tigers used their defense to secure the victory. The team turned two double plays and threw one runner out at home plate.
After first baseman James Bagnall fielded the final ground ball out to secure the win, the Tigers threw their gloves skyward before running a few victory laps around the fence. Coach Rivers, who is in his 13th year as the Tigers manager, received a Gatorade shower before heading off to present his champions with celebratory cake.
"This may not be the most talented team I have coached in my 13 years, but it has the biggest heart of any team I have ever coached," he said. "And that's why I do what I do."