VANCOUVER — Tears soon turned to smiles and laughter for the Whalley Major Allstars on Saturday afternoon.
The team of 11- to 13-year-olds fell just a couple runs short of realizing their dream trip to the fabled Little League World Series.
Instead of flying to Williamsport this week, the baseball-ing boys of Whalley may spend some time thinking about the Canadian Little League championship that could have been theirs.
On Saturday (Aug. 13), after dominating most teams during round-robin play, the squad lost 1-0 to the host Hastings team in the tournament final in Vancouver.
The result means Hastings, not Whalley, gets to represent Canada at the big show in Pennsylvania starting Friday (Aug. 19) against the Japanese champs.
Things weren’t all bad for the Whalley team following Saturday’s final game, however.
“We just went to Boston Pizza and the kids have forgotten about it already,” an upbeat team manager Marc Chiasson told the Now later that evening.
“Half of them were crying on the field after the game but we went (for dinner) and they were all laughing there and smiling, like nothing happened.”
Emotionally, it was a tough way to lose such a big game.
“We had one error in the fifth (inning) and it was unearned run Hastings scored, but hey, we win as a team and we lose as a team,” Chiasson added.
“We’re very proud of the boys. It was a good journey, a good run, but in the end we just couldn’t hit the ball – no hits today. We got on base with walks and stuff, but the bats were cold.”
Whalley was there as the B.C. champs, having earned the provincial banner with a 3-2 win over Trail on July 31 in North Vancouver.
Whalley was looking for its first Canadian crown since going back-to-back in 2005 and 2006.
This time at nationals, Whalley cruised to a 5-1 record during round-robin action at the 10-day tourney, and then scored an 8-4 win over Team Quebec in the semifinal on Friday evening (Aug. 12).
In Saturday’s all-B.C. final, similar to the scene for Whalley’s tight 5-4 loss to Hastings earlier in the tourney, a crowd of close to 4,000 crowded the diamond for the nooner at Hastings Community Park.
The energy around the park had to be startling for the young players. Fans were standing several rows deep beyond the outfield fences, and the streets around the facility were lined with cars for several blocks.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the fifth, Hastings’ Nicola Barba, hit a 3-2 offering from Whalley reliever Haiden Letzing to left field to score Matteo Ripoli from third with the game’s only run.
Hastings starter Loreto Siniscalchi had no-hit Whalley through five innings, striking out 13 and walking four along the way.
Letzing ended up leading the tournament in hitting with a .667 average (12 for 18), to go with three home runs and 14 runs batted in.
On the mound for Whalley, Colton Frick pitched four-and-two-thirds innings in the final game before Letzing relieved him.
“Colton pitched a heck of a game and I think they were expecting Hayden to start, but we threw them a curveball, literally,” Chiasson said. “Hastings only had two or three hits on us the whole game, so it was great pitching all around, by everyone.”
Other players on the Whalley roster are Brandon Chiasson, Ethan Hein, Daniel Lafleur, Carter Spencer, Manny Birch, Rykan Stovern, James Tang, Noah Cassie, Mason Chien, Parkor Sarai and Luke Siemens.
“It was a great experience, and it’ll be a summer these boys will never forget,” Chiasson said. “We were treated like kings at both the provincials (in North Van) and at Hastings, too. It was fun, and we wish Hastings all the best in Williamsport. Hats off to them.”
Hastings finished the tournament at 8-0, and Whalley’s six wins in eight starts were by a margin of 60-7.
Looking ahead, Chiasson said this squad of allstars is pretty much good to go for another shot at a title. Surrey is home to most of the players on the team, with a few from the North Delta catchment.
“We’re trying to keep the group together to play again next spring in Whalley, and most of the kids will be back, and we’ll try for the Intermediate World Series,” he said. “We’ll play our house league season and then form an allstar team in June with the same basic nucleus as this year, and about 85 per cent of the kids want to do that, except one or two of the 10 or 11 of them.”
Of note, B.C. has won 11 of the past 12 national Little League titles in Canada. They finished second in the other, with White Rock/South Surrey falling to Ottawa’s East Nepean in the 2013 finale in Glace Bay, N.S.
(with file from Steve Ewen, PNG)