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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. â€“ Dave Belisle has long been a standout hockey coach at Mount St. Charles.
But for the next few days, heâ€™s just a kid again.
The 14 members of the Cumberland American Little League team have carried Belisle on the ride of his life this summer. This week the ride has reached its final destination, the ultimate destination for every Little Leaguer â€“ the Little League World Series. The Series does not only exist on television to these players and coaches anymore. They are here, they are experiencing it and they are enjoying every moment.
And Friday at 3 p.m. they will play their first Series game at legendary Lamade Stadium, facing West champion Huntington Beach, Calif.
â€śIâ€™ll never forget this and for the rest of their lives the kids wonâ€™t either,â€ť Belisle said. â€śItâ€™s like, do you believe in miracles? ...Yes! Yes. Weâ€™re still gathering our thoughts, but we deserve this. We played some great ball and we beat some unbelievable teams to get here so now letâ€™s show the world how good we are and that we deserve to be here.â€ť
Cumberland American punched its ticket for South Williamsport in dramatic fashion, holding off a furious sixth-inning rally and defeating defending New England champion Fairfield, Conn., before overcoming a 3-0 first-inning deficit and downing Andover, Mass., 13-7.
Those two wins best showcased what has made Cumberland so successful, a blend of toughness, resiliency and talent. So many players delivered big hits and big plays in those wins while different pitchers recorded outs in high-pressure situations. It has been that way all summer too and every player has made an impact. Take one of their contributions away and this run does not happen.
â€śThey all make big contributions,â€ť CALL assistant coach Matt Wright said. â€śThey have such a passion for the game and such heart. Their will to win is amazing. They fight every at-bat. They pick each other up and support each other and thereâ€™s no negativity.â€ť
Look for more of the same on Friday against California. The West champions are the best team Cumberland has faced thus far. California enters undefeated and went 6-0 at the West Regional, edging Red Bluff, Calif., 2-1 in the final. It won that game after Steven Kotkosky hit a two-run sixth-inning home run. In the five previous games, California had outscored its opponents, 39-5 and shut two out.
â€śCalifornia is very strong. All the teams that have come here are tough and have good pitching and power and this team is no different,â€ť Belisle said. â€śWe have to hit because if we donâ€™t weâ€™ll be in trouble.â€ť
That has not been a problem this summer. Cumberland is balanced top to bottom and it showed in both the state and New England final. Cumberland American clubbed six home runs in the state final and four players combined for five against Massachusetts last Saturday. Lead-off hitter Ryan McCormick hit two in the first inning of that game while Chris Wright, Jake Glod and Max Hanuschak.
In districts it was players like Colin Cannatta and Conor Lavallee that came up big, combining for eight home runs while Wright was sidelined with a broken ankle. That is how it is with Cumberland. Whatever the situation, somebody delivers. That has made it one of the worldâ€™s best Little League teams.
And now the whole world is watching.
â€śThis is unbelievable. We couldnâ€™t be prouder of the players and the coaches,â€ť league president Scott Schmitt said. â€śItâ€™s going to be a great time.â€ť
It got even greater on Wednesday when Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona made a phone call to the team here in Williamsport, telling the players to â€śenjoy the challenge, trust your teammates, and weâ€™ll see you on (ESPN) SportsCenter.â€ť