By Evan Berkowitz | [email protected]
The state champion Alexandria Intermediate All-Stars posted 27 runs over three games in Southeast Regional play, but it wasn’t enough to lift them over strong competition in Kernersville, North Carolina, last weekend.
The Intermediate 50/70 Little League All-Stars were the first Port City team to reach regionals, where they dropped one game Friday to Georgia then rebounded Saturday with a win over Alabama before bowing out on a highstakes loss to South Carolina on Sunday.
“If you put the whole thing in perspective, it’s unbelievable what we’ve accomplished coming from Alexandria,” Coach Mike Engelberg said Tuesday. “Our league is not geared toward putting together powerhouse all-star teams. … Our league is geared toward giving kids a great baseball experience, no matter what the skill level.”
“Taking a group of kids who are very, very talented and making it all the way down to the final five teams in the entire south … is just such an amazing accomplishment,” he said.
“Suffice to say, the boys exceeded THEIR expectations [sic] by winning the first ever state title for Alexandria Little League,” Assistant Coach Pete Mensinger wrote in an email. “We all learned so much about ourselves, each other and the game we love.”
The Intermediate 50/70 AllStars are made up of players aged 11 to 13 from across Alexandria’s sponsored teams for the age group. Fifty-seventy refers to the distance between home plate and the pitcher’s mound and between bases, respectively.
It is the middle-size field in Little League, between smaller majors and larger juniors and seniors, according to an Alexandria Little League press release.
The Little Leaguers reached Kernersville after defeating four other teams – all by double digits – in Virginia state tournament play in Scottsburg, Halifax County, the week of July 10. They reached states after district-level victories over Arlington National and Arlington American.
The All-Stars were the first Alexandria team at any level to win the state title, which Engelberg called “a stamp of validation to all the hard work a lot of people put in over the years.”
“In today’s day and age, where everybody’s so focused on travel baseball and year-round baseball, it’s neat to win a state Little League championship,” he said. “No matter where you live in the country, at any point in your life, you can say ‘My Little League team won our state championship,’ … and just about anyone who follows sports will know what you’re talking about. So it’s pretty cool in that sense for them.”
The All-Stars managed to keep their first regional game, against Georgia state titleholder Martinez-Evans Little League, knotted at one through four innings. A set of Georgia scores and untimely errors from Virginia left the All-Stars behind, and they eventually lost 16-3.
“The wheels fell off, but it was a much closer game than the score was,” Engelberg said. “After that Georgia loss, … that’s not us. We hadn’t played like that all season, since June. That’s not what we can be defensively.”
For the next outing, Engelberg said he stressed a return to “Alexandria baseball” — pressuring on the bases, putting the ball in play and taking chances on the field. His players followed through.
In game two, Alexandria took an early lead over Alabama champion Hoover Athletic Association Little League en route to a convincing 15-5 win.
“The kids just put the Georgia game behind them, which is a great thing,” Engelberg said. “We got back to the way we are, we stole double-digit bases, we picked off four runners, so we did the things that we do well against [Alabama].”
The All-Stars continued their winning ways early on against South Carolina state leader Mid-Carolina Little League of Newberry County, but it wasn’t quite enough.
“At one point we had a four-run lead, and then they chipped away, chipped away, and South Carolina made great plays and we had a couple untimely errors again,” Engelberg said. “But the kids played great, battled back in the last inning and had a chance to tie the game, … so I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Mensinger wrote in an email that he and the team were simply excited by the opportunity to represent the commonwealth in regional play.
“The boys were amazed at how much they experienced and learned during this postseason run,” Mensinger wrote. “In the end, we had a stellar summer season with an 8-2-0 record and a deeper appreciation for who we are as Virginians.”