Even though the purpose in Little League baseball is learning sportsmanship and the game, Thursday night's Martinez-Evans Little League Championship game was dripping with drama and excitement.
The Cardinals beat the Dodgers 13-6 in a wild back-and-forth contest filled with intensity, pressure and a storybook ending.
The Cardinals (14-3) and the Dodgers (12-5), have been long-time powerhouses in the Martinez-Evans Little League Majors division. The history between the rivals holds the Cardinals on top during the past three years, but that was before the Dodgers finally beat the Cardinals in regular-season play this year.
"I didn't think we played very well that game," Cardinals coach Tommy Starnes said. "It was the low point in our season."
When the two teams met in the finals, more drama unfolded. It appeared that a repeat of the regular-season meeting was in order after the Dodgers took a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Then, redemption came for the Cardinals.
Cardinal infielder Casey Rowland stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second inning and launched the fourth pitch she saw over the center field fence. The home run, Rowland's first of the year, brought the Cardinals to within one run and started a scoring streak that ended in the fourth inning with a 9-3 Cardinals lead.
Starnes said it wasn't the first time he's seen the 11-year-old girl hit a home run.
"She's hit probably 20 out in practice, but never in a game. It was electric when she hit it," he said.
"She's got all the tools to play with the boys. She swung the bat better than anyone else the last three weeks," Starnes said.
The fairy talelike story continued as another Cardinal, Davis Starnes, hit his first home run of the season in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Cardinals 13 runs in the six-inning game.
Both Starnes and Rowland went two-for-three at the plate, while pitcher Tommy Wesse threw a complete game to earn the win. Pitcher Dakoda Finch led the way for the Dodgers, batting three-for-four with two doubles and three RBI.
After the postgame celebration, one final act of kindness completed a storybook ending for the Cardinals' season. As the team met below the scoreboard that boasted the 13-6 championship win, Starnes called catcher Devin Hagen in front of his family, friends and teammates to present him with the championship trophy.
Starnes' father, Buddy Starnes, was an assistant coach with the Cardinals until he was deployed to Iraq this past week as a member of the Army.
"You take this home and give this to Coach Buddy the next time you see him," Starnes said to Devin.
Devin's mother, Bridget, was at the game and said she wouldn't be able to tell her husband of the news until the weekend because he was in the field.
"When I do tell him, you'll be able to hear him yell from Baghdad," she said.
The 2006 Martinez-Evans Little League Champion Cardinals
Coach Tommy Starnes
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.