'We know how to fight': Grosse Pointe rallies again, wins on walk-off
South Williamsport, Pa. — Kurt Barr thinks it might be time to come up with a new strategy at the Little League Baseball World Series.
Reggie Sharpe says it might not matter because the Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores players will have their manager’s back, if needed.
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores came from four runs down, again, and scored the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning, again, Monday afternoon to extend their stay in Williamsport.
It was Sharpe’s bases-loaded single through a drawn-in infield with none out in the bottom of the sixth inning that completed the latest rally, and latest 5-4 victory, this time over Grandview, the Midwest Regional champions from Des Moines, Iowa.
“I had to stay calm,” Sharpe said. “Everything was going through my mind, but I was like, ‘Stay calm.’
“I fought off a great 3-2 pitch, then got up there and did what I could with the last pitch to get it past the second baseman.”
For the second time in two World Series wins and third time in this postseason run to the final eight in the world, the only Woods-Shores lead came when the team was walking off the field.
Rough starts created some difficult moments with just staying close enough to keep a comeback plausible.
“For whatever reason we’ve really struggled out of the gates these past three games,” Barr said. “I can’t really explain it because it’s not how we got here.”
It left Barr wondering whether tonight’s first inning for the 7:30 elimination game with the Post Oak (Houston) vs. Peachtree City (Georgia) winner perhaps should not be his team’s first inning of the night.
“I think we just need to find a team to scrimmage for two or three innings and get it out of our system before we start,” he said.
Preston Barr, the manager’s son, paved the way for the comeback. He kept Woods-Shores close with his relief pitching, moved it closer by driving in the first run on a sacrifice fly, then forced the tie with an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth.
When Barr kept the game tied in the top of the sixth, with help from his infield, Woods-Shores won the game by getting the first four batters on base in the bottom of the inning.
The comeback was extremely similar to the one in Friday’s opening victory over Northwest champion Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Same early deficit. Same final score. Same half inning for winner.
One big difference was that this was an elimination game. Kurt Barr could find just one other.
“Those games were almost identical,” he said. “ … The only difference was the emotional aspect today. I hate to say this, because I don’t want this to happen ever again, but this was our fourth comeback, so it’s starting to feel normal.
“The high wasn’t as high today.”
Pitching and defense again kept it close until the offense kicked in doing most of its damage once a dominant starting pitcher was gone.
Oliver Service started the bottom of the sixth with a ground ball to third base. He took off down the line to make it as tough a play as possible and wound up on second as the result of a two-base throwing error.
“I just said to myself, ‘Don’t look at the ball,’” Service said.
Chase Mazey fouled off one bunt attempt, then dropped the next right in front of the plate. He beat it out for a single, without even a throw, putting runners at the corners.
“He’s a really skilled player,” Kurt Barr said. “He may not get as much playing time as some other kids, but that’s a function of the depth of our team, and not a reflection of him as a player.”
Marwynn Matthews squared as if to consider a bunt twice before Grandview gave up and intentionally walked him to load the bases.
Sharpe got ahead in the count. Connor Duong battled back to get to 3-2 and then the Sharpe grounder ended it.
“We always know how to fight,” Sharpe said. “We’re never going to give up. We know that we can come back.”
Seeing the reaction of the manager sitting to his right, Sharpe added to his comments, addressing Kurt Barr as much as the media gathered for the press conference.
“OK, hopefully we won’t have to, but if we do, we know we can,” he said.
Preston Barr got his second straight win by making a long relief appearance in which he finished up the game. He followed up a 3 2/3-inning scoreless effort by working 5 1/3, giving up a run on four hits and a walk while striking out nine.
Barr entered with three runs in and immediately got a strikeout to end the first inning.
Starter Brennan Hill had hit two batters and thrown two wild pitches. Kurt Barr’s quick decision and the comeback that followed kept Hill eligible to pitch again today. The manager said he will probably get another start.
There was a chance to consider saving Preston Barr for a possible Thursday game, but he was pitching well and the team getting through Monday depended on his continued effort.
“These winner-take-all games, you come up with all the best-laid strategies and they get blown up in the first inning,” Kurt Barr said. “We had one out and our whole pitching plan for the game got destroyed.
“(Preston) was coming out today after 20 pitches, but you gotta win.”
Preston Barr, who made a series of excellent defensive plays at shortstop in Sunday’s loss, has been outstanding throughout the tournament.
“I’m just really proud of him and what he’s doing, how hard he’s worked and how far he’s come,” said Kurt Barr, fighting back tears. “To be able to share this with him, it can’t be beat.”
Jarren Purify continued his improbable plays at third base. Purify dove into foul territory to backhand a hard-hit grounder that had cleared the bag in fair territory with the bases loaded in the second inning.
Purify got up in time to get a force play at third base, ending the inning and saving runs with the team already down by three. He was also the only Grosse Pointe player with two hits.
Ryan Knaebel scored twice. He walked and came in with the first run in the fourth.
Matthews, leading off, and Purify, with one out, had bunt singles to start the three-run fifth.
Knaebel singled up the middle to load the bases.
Hill’s groundball scored one run. Purify rounded third, drew a wild throw and scored to pull Woods-Shores within one.
Barr’s two-out single to right field tied it.
Tom Robinson is a freelance writer.