The McLean Little League field on Westmoreland Street is our field of dreams for more than 1,000 of our kids and their moms and dads. League vice-president Chris Shue, father of a player, was good enough to share his play-by-play of the final championship game with the neighbors. We think you'll love this.
By Chris Shue, National League VP McLean Little League
On a warm Spring evening at historic Furr Field, National League champion Northwestern (15-5) and American League champion Color Wheel (18-2) met in a magnificent battle that would fittingly cap a higlight-laden McLean Little League season. A battle so epic, that it fully deserves an introductory run-on sentence and the scores of sports cliches that are sure to follow. So buckle your chinstraps, because it's the McLean Little League City Series championship game.
And we're swinging for the fences.
On one side, you have Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, National League regular season title holders and reignng City Series champions. On the other, you have American League champs and reigning City Series runners-up, Color Wheel. The top two seeds in the tourney. The two best records in McLean Little League. And for the second year in a row they meet for the City Series championship.
After pregame introductions by the voice of God (or maybe Paul Shiffman - we're still checking), the players were treated to a beautifully sung National Anthem. At least one coach MIGHT have been looking around, trying to soak it all in, getting a little nostalgic, and trying not to get emotional.
After the plate conference it was time to play ball and taking the mound for Color Wheel was veteran righty Tom Shue. In his last outing, Shue had lost his bid for a perfect game with two outs in the fifth and in his last career Little League start, he wanted one more shot at the achievement. Leading off for Northwestern was all-star third baseman Jay Goettman. On an 0-1 pitch, the speedy leadoff hitter hit a low line drive that third baseman Carter Bosch was just able to snare before it hit the ground. Then second baseman Michael Valentine put to rest any visions of a perfect game as he smacked a 2-1 fastball into right center. Pitcher Will Thomas followed with a bouncer back to the pitcher that Shue fielded and threw to shortstop Kaz Kishimoto at second. Kishimoto stepped on second to get Valentine and gunned it to Drew Gillis at first for the doubl....wait...the throw was high! Gillis came off the bag! Thomas was safe!
With a runner on first, shortstop Joey Duffield hit a chopper to the right side that Gillis handled and flipped to Shun Hatano. Except the second baseman wasn't standing on first. Duffield was safe and in the confusion Thomas went all the way around the bases to score. It was an embarrassing lapse for the American League champs, but Shue collected himself and got a tapper back to the mound to end the inning.
Staked to a 1-0 lead, fastballer extraordinnaire Will Thomas took the mound. Thomas, who had racked up over 100 strikeouts during the course of the season, got off to a fast start against leadoff hitter Kishimoto, working an 0-2 count. Then everything changed as Kishimoto took the 0-2 fast ball and hit a high flyball that looked like it might be caught by the left fielder. But it kept carrying and carrying until the left fielder ran out of room and the ball landed over the fence for a shocking leadoff homerun.
The slowly gathering crowd that circled Furr Field went nuts. Kishimoto flashed his megawatt smile as he rounded the bases. Thomas gathered himself and struck out the next batter but then Tom Shue came to the plate and smashed a double to the right field fence. Bosch, the cleanup hitter, came up next and laced a 2-1 opposite field single to score Shue and give Wheel a 2-1 lead. As expected, Thomas kept his composure, getting a pop out and a strikeout to end the inning.
In the top of the second, catcher Alex Horenstein drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. Rightfielder Sam Mathewson hit a routine grounder, but rather than get the sure out, the Wheel defense elected to get the lead runner. Except they didn't, and suddenly Northwestern had runners on first and third with no outs. Leftfielder Dan Mathewson executed a solid bunt, but the runner on third stayed put while Mathewson was thrown out. Rookie Chris Schram was next up and on a 1-1 pitch he hit a chopper to shortstop Kishimoto. The runner on third, Horenstein, broke for home. Kishimoto charged the ball, fielded it cleanly, and gunned it to the plate. Catcher Miles Bolin received the throw and went down to block the plate, just as Horenstein arrived. It was a perfect play. CATCHER VERSUS CATCHER.
Jay Goettman, who had been hitting the ball hard all season, came to the plate determined to clear the bases. He lifted a high fly ball to centerfield, but David "Hammer" Haas tracked it beautifully and watched it land softly in his glove. Shue and the rest of his Wheel teammates jogged off the field, having just dodged a massive FAILbomb.
Thomas came out strong in the bottom of the second, getting two quick outs before allowing a line drive single to David "Hammer" Haas. Manager Frank Witchey's spidey senses told him he needed Turbo Mach One Million speed, so he immediately signaled for Jack "Jimmy" Rosener to pinch run. Back at the top of the order, lefty Kaz Kishimoto worked a 1-1 count before driving the ball, again, to deep left field. The leftfielder stumbled getting to the ball and Jimmy took full advantage, motoring around from 1st to score. Thomas avoided further damage, inducing a 4-3 groundout to end the second, but Color Wheel went into the top of the 3rd with a 3-1 advantage.
After another Michael Valentine single, Shue struck out Thomas to bring Duffield to the plate. On the seventh pitch of the at bat, Duffield hit a screamer down the right field line. The ball rolled into the corner, a veritable no man's land at Furr Field. Rightfielder William Thompson sprinted to the ball and gunned it in, but not before Duffield had slid into third with a rare RBI triple. Duffield scored moments later on a ground out to the right side of the infield. Shue struck out the next batter to end the inning, but Northwestern had made their statement. They were not going away quietly. Besides, going away before the game was over would be weird and anti-competitive.
Batting first in the bottom of the third was Tom Shue. He jumped all over the offering from Thomas and lined it about 2 feet off the ground all the way to centerfielder Chris Schram's body. The gathering crowd made a collective ouch face as Schram did his best to stop the ball. Despite a great (and tough) effort, Shue rolled into second with a standup double. Niko Woltman came in to run and give Shue a rest, but on the next play, Will Thomas made a heads up play on the grounder from cleanup hitter Bosch, gunning Woltman at third. The momentum seemed to be squarely in Northwestern's favor until Drew Gillis came to the plate and absolutely KONGED a double to the left center fence. Bosch trucked around the bases and scored, giving the lead back to Wheel. Thomas struck out the next batter and had Bolin 0-2, but Bolin fouled off the presumptive strike three pitch. Then he whomped a fastball past second baseman Valentine into rightfield for a standup double, scoring Gillis. The unflappable Thomas took a deep breath and struck out the next batter to end the inning.
Down 5-3, Northwestern looked to bounce back. Shue definitely did not have his best stuff working, but his curveball was still biting enough to strike out the leadoff batter and induce a 6-3 groundout. Rookie Branson Packard blooped a single to left, giving Northwestern a little hope, particularly with leadoff hitter Goettman coming to the plate. The third baseman hit the first pitch from Shue and hit it hard, but it was right at Kishimoto. The undisputed king of 12 year-old shortstops (yes, I polled a few people), fielded the ball off his thigh and threw the speedy Goettman out at first to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Color Wheel looked to extend its 5-3 lead. Brett "Diesel" Richardson had a strong at bat but eventually succumbed to a professional-grade Will Thomas curveball. Kishimoto followed with his third hit of the game, a single up the middle. Shun Hatano bunted Kishimoto to second, but with two outs, Northwestern intentionally walked Shue. With two outs and runners and first and second, Wheel looked to break the game wide open. Will Thomas, who would be named NL pitcher of the year after the game, responded, striking out cleanup hitter Carter Bosch on three pitches.
Down 5-3 in the top of the fifth, time was getting short for the Northwestern faithful. A sea of onlookers flooded the open area behind the backstop as the visitors came down to their final six outs. With Shue's pitch count limit visible in the distance, Michael Valentine came to the plate and floated a ball to left field for a single - his third hit of the game. Next, Shue took Thomas to 1-2, but a fastball got away from him and hit Thomas right on the elbow. In obvious pain, Thomas went down and the coaches rushed to check on him. Shue was visibly upset but his catcher, Bolin, as he has done a number of times this season, came out to the mound to calm him down. He even coaxed a smile out of him, leading hardcore Color Wheel bloggers to speculate on exactly WHAT was said during that exchange. After a few minutes, Thomas was up and jogging down to first. The standing room only crowd applauded for the tough as nails kid with the rubber arm and elbow of steel.
With the tying run on first, Joey Duffield came to the plate and had an at-bat that was worthy of having an award named after it. It would be the Duffield Award for Best At-Bat of the Season.
With an 0-2 count, Duffield fouled off five of the next six pitches. After the game, Coach Witchey would remark that Shue threw all four of his pitches during that sequence. On Shue's 84th pitch, Duffield cranked a high fly ball to centerfield. Hatano, who had moved from second to center in the top of the third, made the catch.
Valentine tagged up.
Hatano rifled the ball to third, sparking a few to wonder, once again, how does a kid that small throw it so freaking hard (answer: heart, baby!). It looked like it was going to beat Valentine. At the last millisecond, it landed and took a weird hop, scooting past third baseman Bosch into the Northwestern dugout. Valentine was awarded home and Thomas third. Shue was now almost done - with 84 pitches he could finish the next batter, but that was it. Incredibly, Duffield saw twenty pitches from Shue in his three at bats, almost a quarter of Shue's total pitches. Facing the last batter of his Little League career, Shue managed to dig down deep, get the crucial strikeout, and prevent the runner on third from scoring.
With Shue done it was time for a call to the pen. Time, in fact, for Dr. Drew Gillis, emergency relief specialist (yes, I just made that up - feel free to use it!). Gillis had closed out a number of important games during the season and playoffs, including a 2-0 win over Rocco's, a 6-3 win over Wheat's, and a 2-1 win over Northwestern. Of course, none of them compared to this situation. Catcher Alex Horenstein quickly ended the suspense, smacking a single to left, scoring Thomas and tying the game up at 5-5. The Northwestern players and fans were going absolutely crazy. The momentum had shifted all the way to the lower case "n" in Northwestern and many folks wondered if Wheel had any chance of getting it back. Of course Gillis has ice water in his veins and he quickly got a bouncer to first to end the inning. The damage, however, had been done. Tie game. Three outs left for Northwestern, six remaining for Wheel.
In the bottom of the fifth, Thomas had just ten pitches left. Color Wheel was instructed to go deep in the count. So of course Gillis smacks the first pitch he sees for a seeing eye stand-up double. Thomas fought back, striking out the next batter before getting a 4-3 infield ground out from Bolin. With Gillis advancing on the play, Wheel had the go ahead run on third with two outs. Leftfielder Niko Woltman followed with a great at bat, going five pitches deep before smacking a hard grounder to third base. With Gillis charging home, Northwestern third baseman Jay Goettman made the tough stop and throw, getting Woltman by a step to prevent the go ahead run.
Final inning. 5-5. Onlookers ringed the field, three to four deep in some spots. Little kids even occasionally stopped playing handball to watch the classic that was unfolding. Gillis didn't disappoint Wheel Nation, throwing bullets and striking out the lead off batter. Next he got a bouncer back to the mound. Two outs. Then Goettman, who had hit with authority every ball he saw that game, laced a 1-0 fastball into centerfield. A nightmare for Wheel, as the superfast Goettman could be at third in the blink of an eye. To compound matters, Michael Valentine, who already had three hits on the day, was at the plate. Gillis took a deep breath and threw another fast ball, almost daring Valentine to hit it. The gritty second baseman accepted the challenge, hitting the ball hard between first and second. Goettman motored around second and headed to third. Shue, who had taken over first base from Gillis, was up to the challenge, moving to backhand the ball before it left the infield. He moved to tag the bag, realized how fast Valentine was, and starting sprinting, just getting there before Valentine.
Bottom of the sixth. Tie game. With Will Thomas exhausting his pitch limit to end the fifth, Northwestern brought in all-star Alexander Owen to keep the game in hand. Owen was accurate and fast and got the dangerous Hammer Haas to pop out to shortstop for the first out of the inning.
Top of the lineup now batting for Color Wheel.
With three hits on the day, there was a question whether Owen would pitch to Kishimoto, but he challenged the leadoff hitter right from the get-go. Kishimoto responded by smacking a ball to Goetmann. The third baseman made a magnificent stop, but his throw sailed high and the fleet footed shortstop was safe at first.
Now it was starting to get really loud and the tension was pulsing through the park. Diminutive black belt and part-time centerfielder Shun Hatano stepped to the plate and worked the count to 2-2. Owen dealt another fastball and Hatano battled, fouling it off. One more fastball and Hatano was ready, hitting it hard up the middle, just out of the reach of Duffield's outstretched glove.
With the winning run on second and Tom Shue coming to the plate, Northwestern called time. The strategy was pretty clear. Intentionally walk Shue for the second time that game, load the bases, and put the pressure on cleanup hitter Bosch. The strategy paid off handsomely in the fourth inning and the coaches had to hope at worst Bosch would hit a grounder somewhere that could be thrown home for the forceout.
Shue watched four balls go by and took first base, with Hatano jogging to second and Kishimoto to third. The outfield moved in, as did the infield. The air crackled with electricity. The Color Wheel first base coach hyperventilated. The fams were shouting encouragement to Bosch and Owen, creating a cacophany of sounds not heard at Furr Field in ages. Gillis waited on deck.
The Color Whel bench practically screamed for Carter. It was so loud no one could hear the coaches shouting instruction. Everyone was yelling and shouting and hollering. Except for Bosch. He was locked in.
Bosch's eyes got wide.
The ball rocketed through the infield into leftfield. Kishimoto sprinted home, touched the plate, and raced to Bosch. The Color Wheel players engulfed Bosch as their fans jumped up and down, hugging and cheering.
Coach Witchey quickly had his players line up and in an emotional moment the coaches and players shared handshakes and hugs, congratulating each other on a game well-played.
A fitting end to both a wonderful season and the Little League careers of a spectacular group of baseball players. More than one adult, dazed, wandered around the field, soaking it all in.
This season McLean Little League had 240 girls playing on 20 softball teams and 874 boys and girls playing on 73 baseball and t-ball teams.