G.P. Woods-Shores enjoys 'crazy cool' ride at Little League World Series

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores's Jarren rounds first base after hitting a solo home run in the third inning of Wednesday's elimination game at the Little League World Series.

Kurt Barr didn't feel much like talking moments after his Little League team's season ended Wednesday afternoon.

Hard to blame him. He had a bunch of 12-year-olds to console.

By Wednesday night, though, Barr was ready to speak about the Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores' memorable run through the state tournament, the Great Lakes Regional and, finally, the Holy Grail, the Little League World Series, in South Williamsport, Pa.

"The kids, they were really bummed after the game," Barr said over the phone Wednesday night, several hours after his team's 4-3 elimination loss to a team from Georgia.

"But I'm not too sure it was as much about losing as it was that the experience was over."

And what an experience it was.

Woods-Shores had been to the World Series three times before, but never won a bracket game — and just once won any game, an international consolation contest. In fact, no team from anywhere in Michigan had won a bracket game since the early 1980s.

But this team won twice — in thrilling fashion, with two 5-4 walk-off wins.

And it had its opportunities to extend its run, but a couple of Georgia "doinks," as Barr called them, found the right spots early in Wednesday's game, and Woods-Shores, known for its offense, just couldn't find the big, late-game hit this time.

"It was a clean game, a pretty quick game," Barr said. "But again, we started out a little flat. We gave up four in the first two innings. Then we just missed a home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.

"We had our chances. The funny thing is, they had one hard-hit ball all game long.

"It was tough. It easily could've gone the other way, but so be it. Such is baseball, right?"

The loss capped a remarkable summer for the all-star team from Woods-Shores, which had two exhilarating rallies in the semifinals and finals of the state tournament in July to make the regional earlier this month in Indianapolis.

At the regional, Woods-Shores showed it was legit with a dominating four-game performance.

The only buzzkill came when the kids arrived at Woods-Shores and were met with questions about a report out of the Indianapolis Star in which Indiana and Michigan parents claimed the team wasn't on the up-and-up. It questioned residency more than age, not that the report included any documented evidence of wrongdoing.

And so, Little League officials swiftly and firmly stood by Woods-Shores, and the situation quickly faded to black, as the 13 boys took center stage — and enjoyed every second of it. Well, almost every second, the final out notwithstanding.

There were walk-off hits by Reggie Sharpe and Ryan Knaebel, the latter who's enjoyed himself a heck of a summer — as also part of a youth travel team that won a prestigious tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Hall-of-Fame induction weekend. There was the electrifying plan, offensively and defensively, of Jarren Purify. Some outstanding, gutsy relief pitching from the coach's kid, Preston Barr. A third Hill brother, Brennan, played in the World Series, probably a record.

There was hobnobbing with major-leaguers in town for the Little League Classic; participating in interviews on ESPN; showing off their best Fortnite dances for the cameras; collecting fancy, schmancy new baseball gear; playing games in front of thousands of fans. It goes on and on.

"Dude, it was crazy cool," Kurt Barr said. "As hard as this can be sometimes, the lack of sleep, just the pressure and the stress, I wouldn't trade this for the world. This experience is just second to none.

"Just in terms of being on this stage, like this, getting the kind of attention and recognition playing on that kind of field with 10,000, 12,000 people packed in there, you can't dream this stuff up, you know? It's just unbelievable."

The Woods-Shores team plans to stay in South Williamsport until Friday, allowing the boys one more day in the sun — even if it's not on the field.

Barr said the extra day will allow the boys to take part in all the fun that he forbid — to keep them focused — during tournament play, like the pool, the rec room, video games and staying up late. They'll get to hang with other teams' players, and watch a couple more games, albeit from the stands and not the dugouts.

Then, all too soon, it'll be back on the road to Michigan, where, certainly, they'll be greeted by some appreciative Grosse Pointers.

Don't be surprised if the Tigers bring them all to Comerica Park for some recognition later this season. The United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica wants to have them at a game over its championship weekend next month.

"And the coaches," said Barr, "all have a life to get back to Friday."