Midway through the 2019 Little League World Series, the hands-down stars of the show on the American side of the bracket has been Virginia’s own Loudoun South American Little League based out of South Riding.
Two games into its trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, South Riding is unbeaten and perfect.
The team’s first victory — a 3-0 win over Barrington, Rhode Island — included a combined no-hitter by three different pitchers. That was followed by Sunday’s 11-0 win over Coon Rapids, Minnesota, which included another no-hitter — all four of those innings thrown by Justin Lee.
“They had quite a team,” said Jason Semones of Roanoke County. “We knew they were a favorite.”
Only Semones’ squad of 12 upset-minded players from the Cave Spring American League All-Stars came close last month to ending South Riding’s run long before that.
Just as the Virginia team has done at the World Series, South Riding had cruised through the start of the state tournament, which began in mid-July in Abingdon. The Loudoun County team beat Churchland, Front Royal and Tazewell in its pool play all by shutout and scored at least 11 runs in each game.
In the single-elimination bracket play, South Riding beat McLean in the quarterfinals 8-0, which set it up with a semifinal game against Cave Spring American.
The Roanoke County team, which consisted mainly of boys from Hidden Valley Middle School, but also had two who attend Cave Spring Middle School and one enrolled at North Cross, had lost its pool-play opener against the tournament’s co-favorite from Fairfax. But Cave Spring American rallied to beat Coeburn and Louisa to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
That resulted in a 4-0 victory over the Spotsylvania County all-stars.
“These kids have been playing together for a while,” Semones said. “So we felt good about our chances.”
In the semis, Cave Spring American put South Riding on notice right away, taking a 2-1 lead after one inning — the first two runs South Riding had surrendered. While South Riding added two runs in the second to take a 3-2 lead, Cave Spring American added two more runs in the fifth — sparked by back-to-back doubles from Brendon Ross and Chase Pritchard — to go up 4-3.
However, the Loudoun County all-stars forced extra innings by scoring once in the sixth, then scored twice in the top of the seventh to go up 6-4. Cave Spring American scored once in the bottom of the inning off on a leadoff home run by Pritchard to cut the deficit to 6-5, but South Riding held on to advance to the final.
“Not a lot of people gave us much of a chance against Loudoun — they’re such a strong team,” Semones said. “The fact that we go so close … it’s a little disappointing we didn’t win the game. But I am so proud of our guys. They played great and fought hard until the end.
“… We do think that game against us woke them up after that.”
The eventual Southeast Region champions won the state title by beating Fairfax 6-2. And now South Riding is having success in the Little League World Series.
Semones said many of the members of the all-star team also play together on a Southwest Roanoke County-based travel team, so there have been discussions about South Riding since that game.
“They’re excited for them — and they’re rooting for them,” Semones said. “We know how close we came.”
And while Cave Spring’s All-Stars might have been looked at as underdogs last month in Abingdon, count Semones as one person who wasn’t surprised how close his team came.
“I’ve been around most of these kids for three or four years, and they’re just a great group,” he said. “[The all-star season] was a blast. These kids are great ballplayers, but even better kids.”
Semones added that while the team’s time together was relatively short, playing in a state tournament can be a costly endeavor. The club got some financial help from several area businesses, including Bojangles, Johnson Orthodontics, James River Equipment, New Millennium Building Systems, and Kroger.
Team members for Cave Spring American included: Pritchard, Ross, Truett Bartlett, Landon Bishop, Brandon Carey, Wyatt Clarke, Ethan Neal, Braxton Nichols, Brenden Rose, Slate Semones, Ryan Wallding and Wynn Womeldorf and assistant coaches David Ross and Greg Wallding.
Dixie League team
Another state youth baseball team reaching a national tournament was the Patrick County Dixie League O-Zone All-Stars.
The 11- and 12-year-old team won the Virginia state tournament, which advanced it to the Dixie Youth World Series, which was played in Ruston, Louisiana.
Patrick County lost its opener 10-1 to Mississippi, but then rallied with an 11-0 win over Arkansas in its first losers bracket game, and that was followed by a 4-3 win over North Carolina in its next game.
Next up was the Louisiana state champions from Monroe.
Patrick County gave up four runs in the first inning and was ultimately eliminated by a score of 5-4.
The club did receive the tournament’s sportsmanship award, however.
“I constantly preach to our team about being Patrick County gentlemen on and off the field,” coach Brian Jessup said. “It’s so gratifying to see these young players exemplify how others should act in their everyday walk of life.”
Team members included Lucas Taylor, Easton Harris, Noah Jessup, Chance Corns, Broc Taylor, David Lawson, Hunter Heath, Hunter Pendleton, Stuart Callahan, Jackson Horton, Gavin Fain and Avery Brintle.