The wins kept coming. Before long, winning was expected.
But when your ultimate goal is to advance all the way to the Little League World Series, the chances of actually realizing your dreams are rather slim.
“The further you get, the more difficult the competition,” said Keith Fogarty, a member of Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) Parish in Strafford. “At that point, it comes down to any 11-year-old team can beat any other 11-year-old team on any given day.”
Fogarty was referring to the Devon-Strafford Little League team that he coaches. On Aug. 1, a magical summer-long ride came to a screeching halt deep into the Eastern State Tournament when his squad, many of them fighting a virus that lingered throughout the previous week, coughed up a 13-5 lead and lost 16-13.
Not to dwell on the obvious, but Devon-Strafford suffered what usually spells the end of the line in Little League – they ran out of pitching. Ironically, behind the steady arms of Tim Miller and Eric Muchorski, parishioners of St. Isaac Jogues in Wayne, the team was pitching-rich throughout their incredible run.
“Our kids were spent,” said Fogarty. “They had felt really lousy for most of the past week, and we had to use kids in different positions just to make it through the game.”
However, Fogarty said no one ever complained. In fact …
“If we had scheduled a practice for the next day, I am certain that everyone would have wanted to come,” he said. “These are a special group of kids, very dedicated and very coachable. They love to play the game, and they have a lot of talent.”
The team’s jaunt through district and sectional play reminded many of the Philadelphia Phillies’ amazing World Series excursion in 2008. Sometimes they won rather easily, and other times they relied on the improbable.
After winning the first four games of districts to reach the championship, Devon-Strafford trailed 8-7 in the top of the sixth inning, the regulation last inning for Little League barring the need for extra innings to break a tie.
After a single by Fogarty’s son, Tom, Brandon McCullough came in to pinch run. Up stepped Christian Deenis, a product of St. Aloysius Academy in Bryn Mawr. Deenis crushed a fastball over the right centerfield fence to give D-S a 9-8 lead. Muchorski shut the door via a perfect one-two-three save.
“You start to feel like there’s no way you are going to lose,” said infielder Nick Marchese, an OLA parishioner who attends Wayne’s St. Katharine of Siena School. “After we won a bunch of games earlier (the team went 5-0 in a Pennridge tournament in a tune-up before district play), we felt like we were pretty good. But the way we won districts was unbelievable.”
The next challenges were double-elimination sectionals. Devon-Strafford defeated Upper Moreland 4-3, before edging Middletown on the strength of three home runs by R. C. Williams. In the championship, D-S defeated Aston-Middletown 5-3, largely on the strength of Fogarty’s first-ever grand slam in the first inning.
The win catapulted Devon-Strafford to the double-elimination Eastern State tourney in Shippensburg. After winning their first game, D-S lost the second contest and faced elimination against defending state champion Council Rock-Newtown.
Following the aforementioned 16-13 loss, the players from D-S wore a collective scowl and long face. But their coach could not help but smile.
“I couldn’t have been more proud even if we had kept going,” said Fogarty. “These kids gave absolutely everything they had. We started practicing on June 15 and ended up having just two days off between then and Aug. 1. I think everything caught up with them.”
D-S president Steve Rossi was both impressed and appreciative.
“Coach Fogarty got the most out of them and did a great job,” said Rossi. “It was such a boost for everyone involved. They did our community proud. Not only were they a very talented club, but they also presented themselves very well.
“It was exactly what Little League is supposed to be all about.”
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.