Call it stage fright, call it nerves, call it what you will. When the Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores Little League team played its first game in the Great Lakes Regional on Monday just outside of Indianapolis, the moment might have been a bit much for the young group of all-stars.
The result was about what would be expected — a one-sided 10-2 loss at the hands a team from Westside, Ohio.
“We did not play very well on Monday and I think the kids had a little bit of the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look,” coach Jason Hill told The Detroit News on Sunday. “I don’t know if was playing in front of a camera or being on a little bigger stage.”
Whatever it was, it apparently took just one game to get it all out of their system, shake off the nerves and spend the next few days storming to a spot in the Little League World Series beginning this week in Williamsport, Pa.
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores did just that, winning its next four games, capped by rallying for a 6-3 victory over Hinsdale, Ill., on Saturday in the championship game.
“Our backs were against the wall and we ended up winning four straight,” Hill said as the team bussed to Pennsylvania on Sunday afternoon. “Quite honestly, I think it was a total team effort. I really do. We had five different pitchers go out in four days and get the job done on the mound. It didn’t matter if it was our No. 1 or No. 5 guy, everybody threw strikes and did what they needed to and the bats turned on for us after Monday. We started scoring some runs and putting together some better plate approaches, better at bats and runs obviously help a great deal and we were able to score a lot of those last couple days.”
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores followed the opening loss by getting by New Albany, Ind., 4-3, before exploding for 10 runs against Lexington (Ky.) Eastern and 11 runs in a rematch with the team from Ohio.
In the title game, Hinsdale held a 2-1 lead through four innings before Grosse Pointe erupted with five runs in the fifth to take a 6-2 lead. Jordan Arseneau’s two-run run homer was the big blast in the inning.
Joseph Wisniewski had two hits and two RBIs for Grosse Pointe and Jack Jones had two hits. Will Pflaum pitched four innings and struck out four.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Hill said. “We’ve been together and started practicing probably in mid-June and have been playing since early July.”
This isn’t the first time the Grosse Pointe team has been to the Little League World Series. It advanced in 1979 as part of the Central Region and made it back as Great Lakes champions in 2013.
Hill said several of the players from that team and their families were at the regional victory and Tom Mazzola, the coach of that team, stopped by practice last week. It’s helped create a buzz around the community and within the team.
“There’s definitely a sense of pride,” Hill said. “Our Little League has traditionally been very strong and has been very successful and is close knit. It’s been a really good community thing and a positive for our community, so we’re excited to hold the torch, for sure.”
Hill said 200 to 300 fans were with the team the past week and he’s sure that number will grow in Williamsport by the time Grosse Pointe takes on the Southwest Regional champion from Lufkin, Texas, Thursday.
It’s the eighth time a team from Michigan has reached the Little League World Series and Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores will be trying to become the second team to win it all and join the 1959 team from Hamtramck.
Game 1: Venezuela vs. Mexico, 1 p.m., ESPN
Game 2: Jackson, N.J. vs. Fairfield, Conn., 3 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: White Rock, British Columbia vs. Italy, 5 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: Lufkin, Texas vs. Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Game 5: Tokyo vs. Sydney, 2 p.m., ESPN
Game 6: Walla Walla, Wash. vs. Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., 4 p.m., ESPN
Game 7: Dominican Republic vs. Seoul, 6 p.m., ESPN
Game 8: Sioux Falls, S.D. vs. Greenville, N.C., 8 p.m., ESPN