South Williamsport, Pa. — Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores had trouble quieting the “two-out rally” chants that punctuated every Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) run and echoed throughout Lamade Stadium as the Northwest Regional champions controlled the early portions of Friday night’s Little League World Series game.
But the Great Lakes Regional champions eventually found a way to drown out that noise.
Rallying from three runs down in the sixth inning, Woods-Shores walked away with an historic win on Ryan Knaebel’s one-out, walk-off single for a 5-4 victory before 5,892 fans.
Woods-Shores had won just one game in three previous World Series trips, but that was in an international consolation game last year after the team had been eliminated from title contention. This was the first victory in tournament play by a Michigan team since Wyoming in 1982.
“This isn’t our goal, by the way,” Woods-Shores manager Kurt Barr said. “But it is huge.”
Woods-Shores advances to play at 2 p.m. Sunday (ABC) in the U.S. winners’ bracket against Hawaii — a 2-0 winner in 11 innings over Georgia late Friday — providing the storms that delayed Friday’s win for 99 minutes do not cause more alterations in the schedule.
Knaebel ripped a shot off the third baseman’s foot to score Elliott Nederhood from second base to complete a comeback from a 4-0 deficit.
“That’s the greatest moment ever,” Knaebel said. “That’s what you want — your friends cheering you on.”
Nederhood singled in a run as a pinch-hitter as Woods-Shores put the first five runners on base in the bottom of the sixth, the final inning in Little League.
Idaho slowed the rally, getting one out, but in stepped Knaebel, who had hit the tying homer in the rally from a 4-0, sixth-inning deficit to a 5-4, eight-inning win over Bay City Northwest back in the state tournament.
“The Bay City game felt exactly the same,” Knaebel said. “I just had to clutch it up and do what I do.”
For most of the night, the game felt more like earlier Woods-Shores trips to Williamsport than it did the epic state-tournament comeback that everyone around the team was referencing when it was over.
“I think we were pretty flat,” Barr said. “I was actually preparing to be on the other side of this and what I was going to say as a losing coach.”
Several developments began to change the momentum.
Idaho ace starter Christopher Reynolds, who struck out 11 and did not allow an earned run in 4.2 innings, ran out of pitches.
Third baseman Jarren Purify also made outstanding plays to get Woods-Shores out of the fourth and fifth innings without the Idaho team expanding its four-run lead.
He started a double play for one, and made a diving, back-handed stop for the other — with strong accurate throws on each.
Woods-Shores got its first run in the fifth when Purify doubled and scored on Reynolds’ last pitch, a strikeout that got away from the catcher on what could have been the last out.
Barr held up four fingers reminding his team of the comeback it produced long before destroying the Great Lakes Regional competition.
That run came after a controversial call. Idaho seemed to be out of the inning without giving up a run, when the first baseman appeared to catch a foul popup. While it looked as if he squeezed the ball, he then dropped it while taking it out of his glove. The plate umpire ruled it no catch, and gave Woods-Shores another shot, and eventually its first run.
Preston Barr, the manager’s son who had already provided 3.1 innings of scoreless relief, then led off the sixth inning with a double.
“I had to get something going,” Preston Barr said.
Cameron Schafer singled and the first of two outfield errors allowed Barr to score and Schafer to reach third.
“I thought I just had to get on base,” Schafer said.
After Ryan Henderson walked, Nederhood’s single scored one run and the subsequent error produced the tie.
Reggie Sharpe also singled, advancing Nederhood to second — where Knaebel could bring him home.
“It was fantastic,” Idaho manager Sean Cherry said of his team scoring three times in the second and once in the third. “Everything was going our way, but baseball’s a funny game.”
Tom Robinson is a freelance writer.