A 6-5 defeat to Jackie Robinson of Chicago takes the Dragons out of the Little League World Series but not out of our hearts
By Mary Cunningham
Wednesday night’s showdown between Philly’s Taney Dragons and Nevada drew a massive TV audience, according to ESPN, which showed Taney’s 8-1 defeat.
Mo’ne Davis (left in photo above) pitching drew a 3.42 overnight TV rating, or more than 10 times what the Angels and Red Sox drew at the same time on ESPN2. The MLB game drew a .3, according to an ESPN spokesman.
But those ratings didn’t translate into a victory Wednesday, nor did they produce one last night as Taney fell to Chicago’s Jackie Robinson League West All-Stars, 6-5, to end the magical ride of Philly’s first-ever LLWS entrant.
“They’re sad,” manager Alex Rice said. “They’re sad that it’s over, but they’ll be fine. This is our last year as all the kids in youth baseball, and I think a lot of them are upset that they won’t be together again next year, that the team’s breaking up — people might go their separate ways.”
Rice’s voice cracked as he recounted what he told his players at the game’s conclusion. He wanted them to be proud of themselves, he said. He wanted them to feel good about what they were able to accomplish, to remember just how hard they worked to get where they were.
And he wanted them to know how much it all meant to him.
“I’m incredibly proud of them,” Rice said. “And I thanked them for the best summer of my life.”
The Dragons were never truly out of Thursday’s game, despite their rocky start. In a surprise move, left-hander Erik Lipson started on the mound in place of the team’s usual No. 2 pitcher, Jared Sprague-Lott.
Lipson, though, struggled early. He walked the bases loaded and gave up four runs in the first inning alone. He was charged with an error that inning, too.
Though he allowed all six runs of the game, Lipson certainly shouldn’t be blamed for the loss. There was strategy involved in choosing him for the start, Rice explained, and the game wasn’t lost on the mound. It was lost in the field.
“Erik has a variety of pitches,” Rice said. “He’s been very effective for us all summer long. We thought that the Chicago team could hit fastballs, that velocity wasn’t the thing to come at them with. We felt that breaking balls would keep them off balance and so forth.
“Quite frankly, it did work. We fell apart in the field.”
There were at least four Chicago runners that shouldn’t have crossed home plate, Rice said. And that was the difference maker — despite trailing by as much as four, the Dragons managed to claw their way to within one thanks to runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
In the end, Chicago’s speed and tight defensive play was what thwarted the Dragons. Thursday’s game was a battle of the Series’ two media darlings, though, and either team’s playing for the U.S. title would have meant a lot to baseball. Chicago’s team is the first Urban Initiative team to make it to the tournament in 12 years, and the first all-African American team to play in Williamsport in three decades.
“They’re incredibly fun to watch play,” Rice said. “When you see them, their fielding, their athleticism, their enthusiasm, their love of the game, they’re just fun to watch. I see a lot of them in us. A lot of similarities. It’s just the way baseball should be played. The joy that the kids put into it is just terrific. You don’t like to lose, but it was terrific to play them.”