By Duncan Agnew | [email protected]
Alexandria’s home team swept the first Junior League State Tournament to be held in the city.
The tournament kicked off on July 6 with opening pitches and ended with victory at the championship game on Monday afternoon. This week’s triumph represents the second time an Alexandria all-star team has won a Virginia state title. The first championship, which featured about half of the players on this year’s juniors team, came in the intermediate division last summer. The juniors team consists of 13- and 14-year-old athletes.
“Your expectations are always to win, and then you just see how the game goes,” Alexandria Manager Matt Keough said. “Any given day, anybody can win. If your pitching’s on, your hitting’s on, you’re probably going to win.”
Alexandria’s talent was on full display over the last week. The team won all four
of the games it played, outscoring opponents from York County, Central Loudoun, Richmond County and Broadway by an impressive 31 runs.
While Alexandria trounced Broadway 10-0 in the championship game, the key victory came at Frank Mann Field on Sunday afternoon. Down 6-0 after three innings, the team scored seven unanswered runs to maintain its perfect record.
“That was huge. … I think it shows, you know, the team’s discipline or mettle that they have to come back being down six to nothing,” Keough said. “Because [for] a lot of teams, it’s really hard for them to do that.”
Alexandria took down loser’s bracket champion Broadway at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park on Monday afternoon in dominant fashion. The team’s pitching and hitting clicked on all cylinders, with Will Keough throwing six shutout innings and Abe Wingfield securing the championship in the seventh and final inning. Gavin Brunsman and Nathan Carpenter Holmes led the offensive attack, collecting a combined six hits and reaching base eight times. Wingfield and Kevin Dols also tripled for Alexandria.
Little League rules place pitch limits and require rest days for pitchers to save young players from injury. As a result, playing the minimum number of games going into the championship left many of Alexandria’s pitchers still available, while Broadway found itself running out of fresh arms. Having two of the team’s three primary starters ready to go was a huge advantage, Keough said.
The manager also attributed much of Alexandria’s success to the help of assistant coaches Arthur Carpenter-Holmes, Andy Wingfield, John Kelly, Chris MacKay and Denver Brunsman. Keough highlighted their role in running efficient practices and dividing up coaching duties during games.
Additionally, Keough said he’s proud to have given all players an equal opportunity to show their worth on the field, especially in a game as big as the state championship.
“Each kid played three or four innings [in the field], and each kid batted twice,” Keough said. “So I was very happy that everybody got in as much as they did in the championship game.”
This year’s champions also had the edge of playing on home turf.
Alexandria Little League resides in Virginia District 4. Because no other District 4 leagues offer a juniors program, the city’s all-star team automatically appears in the state tournament every year.
Despite many past requests to host the tournament, this summer marked Alexandria’s first opportunity to host.
“In the state of Virginia, we have 16 districts, and those districts are divided into four regions. In a perfect world, we try to rotate the tournaments through the four regions,” District Administrator Ellen Witherow said. “Alexandria had been asking for a while … and so I finally said ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”
Tournament Co-Chair Beth Mensinger said Alexandria’s recent success on the state level played a key role in convincing Virginia Little League officials to bring the tournament to the city.
“We’re very involved in our district, so with the intermediate team winning the state championship last year, I think that kind of helped put us on the map a little bit more and showed that, even though we’re a fairly small community and a very small Little League in comparison to some of the other Little Leagues in the area, that we might be small but we’re mighty,” Mensinger said.
Alexandria baseball, with state championships under its belt and the Little League majors division all-star team making a run to the district semifinals, has indeed become a mighty force. Like Mensinger, Alexandria Little League President Paul Miller said hosting the juniors tournament presented a chance to showcase the city’s talent to the rest of Virginia.
“[Teams have] come in from Shenandoah Valley, from Newport News, Richmond, from all over the state,” Miller said.
Keough said home-field advantage didn’t just provide an easier outlet for families to see the game – it also allowed members of the community not affiliated with Little League to see the city’s team in action.
“It was really nice to have that big a crowd cheering them on,” Keough said.
Alexandria Little League also had the backing of city staff and the Alexandria Aces.
Miller praised city maintenance workers for getting both fields ready for every game. With 20 games in just four days, Little League volunteers relied on the city to prep the fields before each contest, and Alexandria rose to that challenge.
“We needed a lot of help with the city crews to get the fields up and running between games, and they’ve done an absolute phenomenal job,” Miller said.
Tournament games at Frank Mann Field, home of the Alexandria Aces, displaced the team for several days, but the local Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League team was able to play at nearby sites like Wakefield High School and Thomas Jefferson High School.
“We talked with [the Aces], and they were willing to actually coordinate with us for this tournament,” Witherow said.
As the team prepares for the Southeast Regional Tournament in Ft. Myers, Florida, where Alexandria will kick off its campaign against West Virginia on Aug. 3, coaches are looking for ways to keep players focused while having fun playing the game they love.
“Right now, our main goal will try to be to get in scrimmages more so than practices if we can find anybody to play,” Keough said. “…Practices, as you well know for 14-year-olds, get pretty old pretty fast.”
Mensinger said last year’s state championship in the intermediate division gave players an added level of confidence going into the tournament. Those who weren’t on that team were particularly excited to prove themselves at the state level. She said this year’s team was continuing a process that’s long been in motion.
“[Last year’s championship] gives every single one of them kind of a leg up that they’re not riding on anyone’s coat tails by any stretch of the imagination,” Mensinger said. “They’re just continuing on what teams started a long time ago.”