Things looked pretty bleak and Kevin Turner knew it.
His District I Big League baseball all-stars were in the middle of a must-win showdown with Sussex County’s District III in the Eastern Regional on Wednesday night.
Heading into the seventh inning, Sussex pitcher Brody Grove had retired 14 of the last 16 batters.
“I’ll be honest,” said Turner, the District I manager. “You never want to get in a situation where you’re telling the kids, ‘Come on, it’s one batter at a time.’ You start to feel that sullen feeling that you get.
“You’re just thinking, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Nine times out of 10, District III probably would have hung on to the 4-1 advantage it held going into the seventh. But this was one of those times when lightning struck.
The next thing anyone knew, District I had rallied for a 5-4, eight-inning victory. Then Kent County beat Sussex again, this time 6-0, to capture the East banner at Dover Little League.
And remember, late Tuesday night, District I had rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to top Pennsylvania, 8-7, just to stay alive in the tournament.
The reward for their comebacks is a week-long trip to Easley, S.C. for the Big League World Series. The group of 15-to-19 year-olds was scheduled to fly out this morning to South Carolina.
The 17-man District I roster includes 10 Dover players as well as others from Camden-Wyoming, Felton-Harrington, Milford amd Smyrna-Clayton.
“We realized we wanted to go to South Carolina,” is the way Camden-Wyoming’s Travis Dill explained the last comeback. “It took a little while for it to kick in but once it did, we didn’t stop, we just kept going.”
“We just had to get a spark,” said centerfielder Dakota Graham of Dover. “It was awesome. It just felt like it was meant to be because we came back the night before, too.
“We were only down two the night before and we were down three here (on Wednesday). That one extra run felt like a little bit more. But, once we got runners on base, it felt a little different.”
Kent County opens the 11-team World Series on Tuesday with a 12:30 p.m. contest against U.S. Central champ Michigan. District I will play at least three games in the double-elimination format event (each squad plays a consolation contest if it doesn’t advance).
The chances of the Kent County team making a run at a world title probably aren’t very good. Only one East champion (New York in 1979) has ever won the overall title in the event’s 47-year history.
Still, in a tournament that includes five international teams, just playing in a World Series is supposed to be a reward in itself. This is the first time a Delaware squad has reached the Big League World Series since 2006.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Graham. “Not many people get to wear that ‘East’ jersey. The only ones that have been there are Coach Turner, Coach (Kyle) McGuire and Coach (Bryan) Willey. They just said it’s an awesome experience and we’re going to love it.
“We’re going to just go down there, have fun and be as competitive as we can be. The Cinderella story. We’re just going to be under the radar.”
Legion states start
On the other hand, District I’s World Series trip is going to make things difficult for Kent County’s American Legion team, Fox Post 2.
When the state tournament started on Saturday morning at New Castle’s Wilson Field, fourth-seeded Fox Post 2 was missing five players who are on Kent County’s Big League roster.
Also, second-seeded Middletown Post 25 will be missing pitcher John Barkley from Smyrna-Clayton, who is also on the Big League squad.
The biggest issue is going to be pitching depth. Legion state tourney games go nine innings with players permitted to pitch only 12 innings in a three-day span.
“It’s going to be a struggle,” said Post 2 manager Zach Carter. “I’ve got some other kids who are going to have to step up — and we’ve been playing that way. But we miss the pitching.
“We’ve had most of those guys with us pitching all the way through. It’s just been this last week. That’s where it hurts. You need quality and quantity.”
Odds & ends
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or email@example.com.