Even at a young age, South Whidbey’s 9/10 Little League All-Stars team knows how to lose with dignity.
The boys kept their heads held high despite losing to North Whidbey 9-3 in the first round of the District 11 tournament Friday night. After all, they got to play in front of retired professional catcher Bengie Molina, a two-time Golden Glove winner and husband to a South Whidbey High School graduate.
“That was actually pretty cool,” said Cole Thorsen, who caught Molina’s pitch from the mound to commence the tournament.
South Whidbey finished 0-2 in the tournament after losing to Sedro-Woolley 15-5 on Saturday, July 9 and will not advance to the state little league tournament. Burlington-Edison and Sedro-Woolley played for the championship Tuesday afternoon.
First-game jitters were a culprit in the loss, said coach James Petty. North Whidbey was also strong on the mound, and capitalized on wild pitches thrown by South Whidbey’s pitchers. North Whidbey was at its most dangerous toward the end of the game when the team scored three runs in the top of the fourth inning, followed by another three in the bottom of the fifth.
“Bit disappointing, but I still had fun,” said Maddox Smith-Heacox.
Though the game ended one-sided, it was anything but during the first three innings.
Smith-Heacox led off the top of the second with a double. He moved to third base on a steal and was scored by Thorsen’s single, pushing South Whidbey ahead 1-0. North Whidbey responded by scoring two runs in the bottom of the inning on wild pitches thrown by Smith-Heacox, who had difficulties keeping his pitches within reaching distance of Thorsen, the team’s catcher.
Following a lead-off walk in the bottom of the third by Liam Petty, Myles Lind reached first on a ground single, moving Petty to third base. He was scored by Grady Davis, tying the game at 2.
North Whidbey again responded with strong hitting in the following inning, this time adding three runs with Davis and Lind at the mound. North Whidbey’s pitching kept any chance of a comeback at bay, though South Whidbey did add a run in the top of the sixth.
Following two strikeouts by South Whidbey players, Matthias Pierson reached first base after an error by North Whidbey’s first baseman. Pierson stole from first, second, third and eventually got home on wild pitches by North Whidbey’s pitcher.
James Petty said the team’s performance was uncharacteristic of what he’d seen throughout the season.
“I’ll count it to first-game jitters, because these guys are a lot better than that and they’ve showed that over the regular season and in practice,” Petty said.
Petty was, however, impressed by the players’ attitude after the loss.
“These are pretty level-headed kids,” Petty said Friday following the loss. “They know we have more baseball in the losers bracket, and I think we’ll just come back tomorrow and focus a little more on the pitching, infielding and hitting.”
South Whidbey’s little leaguers may have learned a thing or two from Molina.
Before the tournament began, Molina spoke on the mound while surrounded by players and coaches from all four teams, as well as a few dozen onlooking spectators. He talked about the importance of playing with respect and focusing on the team rather than the individual in a five-minute speech. After his talk, he explained his philosophy on TEAM, which is an acronym for “Together Everyone Achieves More.”
“It’s true and even in the big leagues they all go by it,” Molina said. “Respect is big. You got to respect the umpire, your teammates.”
He also met with South Whidbey’s team the day before the tournament and was immediately impressed by their enthusiasm and love for the sport, he said.