The gaggle of Peachtree City fans sitting behind the third-base line always believed.
Even when their team was struggling to hit the baseball, they never let up on cheers, chants or claps. They encouraged hitters at the plate when they were facing the strong arm of Hawaii’s Aukai Kea. They rallied when the defense made heroic plays. The “Let’s Go Georgia!” symphony started in the third inning, after Willis McGinnis and Jansen Kenty connected for a double play that ended a scoring threat from Hawaii.
But an unlimited supply of optimism and glee from family, friends and supporters could not will Peachtree City to a win in the U.S. Championship at the Little League World Series. The Southeast representatives lost to the West Region team from Honolulu 3-0 on a windy Saturday afternoon.
It marked the second time Georgia lost to Hawaii in the tournament this year, as they were unable to avenge their 2-0 extra-innings defeat to the Hawaiians from Aug. 17.
“They believed in themselves all the way until the last inning,” Peachtree City manager Patrick Gloriod said. “The parents and the support that we get is huge. Everybody is just so proud of them. That’s what we keep hearing, over and over again.”
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HOW THEY GOT HERE | Peachtree City Little League team faces Hawaii for U.S. championship
Peachtree City hit well in Williamsport, except for when it played Hawaii. Entering Saturday, the Georgians had scored 21 runs, tied for the most in the tournament this year, but once again, their bats were silenced by Kea, Hawaii’s 5-foot-9 ace right-handed pitcher.
“(Kea) was better than I’ve ever seen him,” Gloriod said. “He was just nasty today. He kept (our batters) off balance. He was throwing hard. … Good pitching beats good hitting.”
In six innings of work, Kea notched 15 strikeouts and allowed Peachtree City to get only three hits and a walk.
“The fact that Kea pitched so well today and to see the level of disappointment on my kids faces, like they failed, tells a lot about who they are,” Gloriod said. “They think they can beat anybody. They’ll go play anybody in the world tomorrow and they think they should win, and I think that’s the kind of attitude you want to see from a team.”
Peachtree City’s starter, Connor Riggs-Soper, pitched admirably, too, striking out five Hawaii batters over 4-2/3 innings. He and the Peachtree City defense kept Hawaii off the scoreboard until the fourth inning.
That’s when Hawaii connected a few hits together to bring a runner home. After striking out the first two Hawaii batters in the inning, Riggs-Soper gave up a double to Hawaii outfielder Hunter Nishina. Three pitches later, John De la Cruz drove in his teammate with a hard ground ball hit into center field.
“Once I saw the run the run score, I was very happy because I knew my team was backing me up,” Kea said. “I could just work hard on the mound and throw strikes. and I knew they were going to have my back. ... I was just trying to hit my zone. ... We’ve been trying to work on my splitter for a while.”
Zachary Won nearly drove in another run for Hawaii with a ball hit deep into center, but an acrobatic catch from a stretched-out Bo Walker ended the inning.
Hawaii scored two more runs in the fifth inning, thanks to a triple by Bruce Boucher and a single by Jace Souza.
Peachtree City attempted to piece together a rally in the sixth inning. Shortstop Tai Peete singled, but was stranded at first by Kea, who struck out two other Peachtree City batters and got another to pop out. Peete jogged back to the third-base dugout as Hawaii chucked blue and yellow hats into the air in celebration.
Peete tallied two hits on the day, and Chase Fralick added another.
Peachtree City was the fourth team from Georgia to reach the U.S. Championship game in the Little League World Series, but the first to lose in it. The others that reached the game — 1983 Marietta, 2006 Columbus and 2007 Warner Robins — went on to win the whole thing.
But the Peachtree City fans, wearing yellow and black, never stopped cheering. They’ll get one more chance to root for this team Sunday morning, when Peachtree City faces Japan, last year’s Little League World Series champions, at 10 a.m. in the third-place consolation game on ESPN.
“Our coaches have been saying all week, how cool it would be if we got to play Japan? We were hoping it would be in the championship game,” Gloriod said. “They’re just an iconic Little League program. After the game we told the kids, this is like getting to go play the Yankees.
“We’d love to win our last game and go out on a high, but the kids have already accomplished so much. We’re just going to go out there and do our best.”