BANGOR, Maine — Ten teams will converge on Mansfield Stadium on Saturday night for opening ceremonies preceding the 2012 Senior League World Series, and while some arrived in conventional fashion, a few others took a less traditional route.
The Maine District 3 champion Hampden All-Stars took a typical path, as much of the nucleus of the team began playing together at age 8 and endured their share of highs and lows through the various age divisions before breaking through this week by going unbeaten in four games to win the district title and earn the right to serve as host team for the SLWS.
“This group of core kids has been building up for this for eight years,” said Hampden pitcher Matt Martin. “We’ve been knocked down and come up a couple games short at times but it feels great to finally get here and have everyone celebrate with us.”
Hampden has been sparked by its depth on the mound, according to manager Basil Closson, with Martin, Matt Palmer, Tristan Gardner and Cody Lyons leading the way.
Hampden’s foe in the tournament opener at noon Sunday is the Canadian champion Notre-Dame-de-Grace Little League of Montreal, Quebec, the only team back from last year’s field.
Nine players on this year’s squad also were on the 2011 team that went 0-4 in SLWS pool play, including a 7-2 loss to District 3 champion Brewer.
“Last year we were in over our heads,” said NDG Lynx manager Bobby Titleman to the Regina (Saskatchewan) Leader Post after his team defeated Lethbridge, Alberta, 6-1 in the Canadian championship game.
“Obviously the guys who are going back will have a better understanding of what it’s all about and we won’t be so shell-shocked. I would say last year we were just so happy to be there but this year for sure we have a goal to win a game. If we can get one ‘W’ hopefully we build on that. We’re not going there just to show up and enjoy the experience. We’d love to be competitive and show that Canadians play baseball as well as hockey.”
No doubt the most curious route to Bangor was taken by the U.S. Southwest champion West University Little League of Houston, Texas.
According to yourhoustonnews.com, West U. was leading the Eastdale Little League from Albuquerque, N.M., 2-1 in the fifth inning of their winners’ bracket game at the regional when one of the New Mexico parents requested to meet with tournament officials.
One official offered an immediate meeting, but the parent wanted to wait until after the game.
New Mexico — which had been a last-minute addition to the seven-team regional field — rallied for a 3-2 victory to improve to 3-0 in the double-elimination tournament while relegating West U. to the losers’ bracket.
But during the postgame meeting, the New Mexico parents told tournament officials that they probably couldn’t afford to travel to Bangor if their team qualified for the SLWS, so the team dropped out of the regional, according to the report.
West U. from Texas East and New Braunfels, Texas, representing Texas West, ultimately were the final two teams standing and West U. defeated its Texas rival 3-2 to earn its third trip to the SLWS in the last four years.
West U. was the 2009 Senior League World Series champion and returned to Bangor in 2010.
Another team that faced brief uncertainty about its status this summer was the Western Little League of Grand Rapids, Mich., which initially did not have a manager until Little League veteran George Rosinski was talked into taking the job.
Rosinski subsequently led his team to what is believed to be the program’s first U.S. Central championship since the 1980s with a 5-1 victory over South Bend, Ind., in the title game.
Grand Rapids is the second straight U.S. Central champion from Michigan at the SLWS. Midland, Mich., went 2-2 in pool play last year.
U.S. East champion Auburn, Mass., is the first Massachusetts District 5 team to qualify for a World Series at any level after sweeping through its regional, a run that began with a 35-0 victory over Scarborough, Maine, and ended with a 5-4 survival of Upper Moreland, Pa.
That final ended dramatically when shortstop Tyler Lamonda — who earlier in the tournament had no-hit South Vineland, N.J. — caught a line drive and stepped on second base for a game-concluding double play after the Pennsylvania team had put the tying run in scoring position in the seventh inning.
The Auburn Senior League team came out of the losers’ bracket in both the Massachusetts District 5 and Section 2 tournaments.
Among other teams in the field, U.S. West champion Lemon Grove, Calif., avenged a pool-play loss with a 6-0 victory over Hilo, Hawaii — the 2007 and 2010 SLWS champion — in its regional final.
Lemon Grove, located in San Diego County, scored all six of its runs in the fifth inning and then won behind the four-hit pitching of Deandre Simpson, the son of manager Andre Simpson.
The South Beaches/West Melbourne Little League of Brevard County, Calif., won the U.S. Southeast regional after qualifying as the host team.
Brevard County not only went unbeaten in five games, it defeated Florida state champion Greater Largo Little League twice along the way, including a 10-0, six-inning victory in the championship game.
The Juvenil de Guatemala Little League of Guatemala City also went undefeated to win the 11-nation Latin American regional it hosted, marking the first time that league has been represented in a World Series at any level, though it’s believed a different Guatemala City team played in the 2010 Junior League World Series.
The Bayside Westhaven Little League of Auckland, New Zealand, became the first team from its country to qualify for World Series competition at any level by winning the Asia-Pacific championship in Hagatna, Guam.
And Italy will represent Europe-Middle East-Africa in the SLWS for the fourth consecutive year, though the Emilia Little League is the third different Italian city to send a team to Bangor during that span.
Many members of this year’s Italian team are believed to have competed in the 2011 Junior League World Series.