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White Rock’s Little League World Series team plans reunion

Five-year mark an opportunity for players to reconvene before graduating high school
White Rock’s Robert Orr, center, celebrates with teammates as he returns to the dugout after hitting a solo home run against Mexico at the Little League World Series in 2017. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Five years after they made it all the way to Williamsport, White Rock’s 2017 Little League World Series team is getting the band back together.

The team – players, plus coaches and parents – are planning to reconvene Friday, June 25 prior to a White Rock Tritons-UBC Thunder BC Premier Baseball League doubleheader at South Surrey Athletic Park. Five members of the 2017 Little League World Series team currently play for the Tritons – Nathaniel Factor, Chase Marshall, Daniel Orfaly, Ty Fluet and Matteo Manzi – while one, Robert Orr, plays for the Thunder.

Two other members of the White Rock squad that won B.C. and Canadian championships en route to playing at the Williamsport, Pa.-hosted LLWS also play in the PBL for the Langley Blaze – Reece Usselman and Grayson Frers.

So far, most – but not all – of the team’s 13 players have confirmed attendance, with details for a few others still to be worked out, organizer Carrie Marshall told Peace Arch News Wednesday, adding that she’s hopeful everyone will be able to make it.

Marshall said a reunion, even after just five years, was a way for the team – which found more success than many Canadian teams that advance to the prestigious tournament, finishing with a 2-2 win-loss record – to reconvene one last time before most players graduate high school and move on to new pursuits.

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“Five years goes quick,” said Ryan Hefflick, who coached the 2017 team that summer, adding that a core group of the team’s players have stayed in touch as they’ve grown up the last five years, and social media has also helped in that regard.

While a handful of players are still playing baseball – and will continue to play at the university or junior college level – others have transitioned to other sports, or will upon graduating from high school.

Usselman has already committed to play NCAA Div. 1 baseball at the University of Oregon, while Marshall – Ussselman’s teammate with the Canadian national junior team – is still weighing his NCAA options after de-committing from the University of Washington.

Daniel Orfaly has committed to play at UBC, while others are likely to still find their way to junior colleges in the U.S, Marshall noted.

Lachlan Scardina, meanwhile, has chosen a future in football – at the University of Toronto – while another former Little Leaguer, Kyle Chyzowski, currently plays hockey in the Western Hockey League for the Portland Winterhawks; the 17-year-old scored 35 points in 68 games this past season.

Marshall – who was the catcher on Canada’s women’s softball team at the 1996 Summer Olympics – said the seeds for a reunion were planted back when the team was in Williamsport in 2017 and met members of Canada’s 1982 Little League World Series team – from Rouyn-Noranda, Que. – who were there celebrating their team’s 35th anniversary.

That team included two players who went on to long professional careers, but in hockey not baseball – Pierre Turgeon and Stephane Matteau.

“They were almost all there, except for two – one guy was in Europe on business, and another was in jail. And I just thought, ‘These are going to be our guys in 30 years… maybe not (the person in jail), but these kids are all going to come out of this (experience) in different ways,” she said.

Hefflick noted that the team played together for a few summers prior to 2017, in advance of the under-12 season that ended in Williamsport, “and we knew when they were nine, 10 years old that they werre a special group of kids.”

As for his favourite memories of that summer, Hefflick at first said “there’s too many to count,” before settling on one in particular – from the national championship tournament in Medicine Hat, Alta.

“The hotel pool had a waterslide, and it looked like a disaster the moment we walked into the lobby and saw it – an accident waiting to happen, because it was full of ballplayers from all across the country running up and down the stairs,” he explained.

“We had so much hope that we could be the team to represent Canada (at the Little League World Series), the coaches had to be the heavies and put restrictions on our team from enjoying the waterslide. But when we finally won it all, before we jumped on the bus (to leave the hotel), the coaches got into our swimsuits and we went down the slide with the boys.

“At that point, we felt like we’d accomplished our goal, and we could accept a little bit of risk.”

At this month’s reunion, the team plans to take a group photo similar to one the team took in 2017 in Williamsport. Marshall said her Olympic team has twice gathered to take an updated group photo similar to their 1996 Olympic team picture – in 2006 and again in ’16 – “and it’s pretty cool.”

“That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with the boys,” she said. “I just want to get all of them together again.”

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