DOVER — Twice in two days, District I looked like it had reached the end of the road.
Twice the Kent County all-stars trailed by multiple runs going into their last at-bat.
But somehow, some way they found a way to stay alive.
And then, when it finally got its chance at the Big League East Regional title, District I reached out and grabbed it, blanking Sussex County’s District III, 6-0, on Wednesday night to earn a spot in the World Series.
Needing to win three straight games after falling to District III on Tuesday afternoon, host Kent County pulled off the feat at Dover Little League.
District I rallied for three runs in the seventh inning to top Pennsylvania, 8-7, late Tuesday night. Then, in Wednesday’s first game against District III, it rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh to tie the contest before winning, 5-4, in eight innings.
The shutout victory in the finals was just the finishing touch for Kent County, which earned its first trip to the Big League baseball World Series in Easley, S.C. since 2006.
“It feels great,” said Camden-Wyoming’s Travis Dill, the winning pitcher in Wednesday’s first game. “We realized we wanted to go to South Carolina. It took a little while for it to kick in but once it did, we didn’t stop, we just kept going.
“I think we’re all happy to say we can go to a World Series. This is the greatest team I’ve been a part of. It’s the greatest win I’ve ever had.”
“Anything can happen at any time,” said Dover’s Sean Hanhasuer, the winning pitcher in the last game. “So when big plays come up, we execute them. We’re a good team, we’re going to the World Series. It should be a fun experience.”
District I, which didn’t hold its first lead on Wednesday until the eighth inning of the opener, never trailed in the nightcap.
Polytech High grad Hanhauser pitched six shutout innings before Smyrna-Clayton’s Corey Everage blanked District III in the seventh. Everage got a strikeout to end the game before his teammates rushed out to the mound.
Before long, the Kent County players were posing for a team photo with their championship banner and trophy.
“I was ready, I wanted the ball,” said Hanhauser. “I really have confidence in myself. But it’s a good team, it’s not all about me. It’s defense, too.
“I felt real confident in my team. We did what we wanted to do.”
“I told them yesterday and I told them again today when we met before the games, I said, ‘This team is built to handle whatever situation,’” said District I manager Kevin Turner of Dover. “I just felt like we had the pitching. We designed the team that way. The teams in the league worked with us to be able to get this team put together the way we wanted it.
“We had a lot of key players in a lot of key moments. That’s what I’m proud of.”
The whole night changed in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s first game.
Going into the inning, Sussex pitcher Brody Grove had retired 14 of the last 16 batters he faced.
But A.J. Johnson (Dover) started the seventh with a single before Dill followed with a double. A dropped flyball brought home one run before a groundout by Kendall Wicks (Camden-Wyoming) made it 4-3.
Finally, Dover’s Dakota Graham bounced an RBI single up the middle to score Jordan with the tying run.
After Grove had to leave the game when his pitch count reached 104, District I started the eighth with a walk and a single by Everage. Johnson then lined a pitch into left to bring home pinch-runner Adrian Hill (Dover) as District I took its first lead of the night at 5-4.
In the bottom of the inning, Dill got the first out on one pitch — his 105th of the contest. Everage then quickly got the final two outs to end the game.
Dill shut out Sussex over the final four-plus innings. The left-hander struck out seven.
“The old saying, it’s never over until it’s over,” said Sussex coach George Susi. “You know, don’t hold your hand in victory too soon because sometimes it does come back.
“Momentum is tough because, as a team, you win and as a team you falter. ... It just wasn’t our turn.”
District III took its 4-1 lead with three runs in the third of the opener. Luke Williams had a big two-run, two-out single before Jacob Swift followed with an RBI single.
Sussex got off to a good start when Austin Littleton doubled in the bottom of the first and scored on Brandon Carroll’s single.
District tied the game in the top of the second on Tommy Jordan’s RBI single.
There were no comebacks in the second game. Already leading 3-0, District I took control of the title game with three runs in the top of the sixth.
Dill smacked his fourth double in the last three games before scoring on an error. Jordan and Hanhauser also scored in the inning while Aven Purnell (Dover) had an RBI single.
Dill also got District I started in the finale. The Delaware State freshman drilled a double to right field to start the third inning.
Pinch runner Hill then scored on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt.
Jordan, who reached base on a fielder’s choice, later came home on a groundout to give Kent County a 2-0 advantage.
District I added another run in the fifth when it sandwiched an infield single around a pair of walks, followed by a fielding error. Hanhauser, who had the single, scored in the inning.
There was a scary moment in the fourth when Sussex pitcher Dustin Reynolds was hit by a line drive right back at the mound. Reynolds, who was hit in the ribs, fell to the ground and was examined for several minutes before staying in the contest.
The left-hander threw 107 pitches before reaching his pitch limit in the sixth.
Turner, who has been to the Big League World Series both as a player and a coach, is excited that another group of Kent County players will get that chance.
“I kind of know what’s down there for them,” he said. “I know it’ll be something they’ll always cherish.”
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or email@example.com.