Bainbridge Island’s comeback kids won the Washington Little League District 2 Championship Baseball Tournament and will now challenge for the state crown this weekend in Woodinville.
Bainbridge Little League’s U-11 boys baseball team took the tourney title after being dropped into the loser’s bracket with a defeat against Gig Harbor American.
The Bainbridge boys then won three games in a row, only to face Gig Harbor American twice more, with the final matchup in the District 2 final.
“It was the third time we faced them by the time we reached the championship,” recalled Steve Kessler, manager for the squad along with fellow coaches Jeff D’Amico and Matt Voltin.
“The first game we played against them was a one-run game, and they were victorious,” Kessler said.
“We had come back from six runs down in the last inning to get within one run, and they almost got it.”
The 11-10 loss dropped Bainbridge into consolation play.
They had to play five games in six days, win them all, one after another, to make it to the championship final.
“And they did it. In the last game, they were so confident and they felt so good about themselves — they just went out there and everything went their way,” Kessler said.
South Kitsap Eastern Little League hosted the 9-11 District 2 tournament, which started June 22 at Manchester State Park.
Bainbridge won its first game in the tourney, beating Gig Harbor National 18-7.
The next day of the tournament, and the team’s first against Gig Harbor American, was the heartbreaking 11-10 loss on the second day of play.
Bainbridge bounced back to beat Sequim 10-0 the next day, then triumphed again over Gig Harbor National, 11-1.
Bainbridge next faced South Kitsap Eastern, and dispatched their hosts 13-2.
The next day of the tournament, Gig Harbor American fell to Bainbridge, 9-8, in the win-or-go-home game.
Bainbridge came in as the underdogs in the minds of many. Not the Bainbridge boys, though.
“They told us when we went into the booth on Saturday, they said make sure you stay on the field, because if Gig Harbor wins, you have to stay there and allow them to be honored,” Kessler said. “I said, ‘Of course we’ll be there.’
“I said I probably don’t expect to be standing there, but we’ll be there waiting.”
Bainbridge pulled out the upset win, but heard the same lecture the next day when they returned to face Gig Harbor American for the championship.
“The second day they said the same thing to us. And we said, ‘Yup — we’ll be on the field, because we are going to be victorious.”
And win they did, in a 19-1 shellacking of Gig Harbor American.
Members of the Bainbridge 11-U team are Dominic D’Amico, Ryan Rohrbacher, Howard Howlett, Arlin Larsen, Odin Olson, Kincaid Hopp, Jack Voltin, Tobias Kessler, Grayson Helke, Tenzing Dikman, Kai Dikman, and Shep Horowitz. (The 11-U team has players from age 9 to 11.)
The team now advances to the state finals, scheduled to start Saturday, July 13 in Woodinville.
Kessler recalled giving the boys a little pep talk before the final game against Gig Harbor American, and he said they all understood they had come a long way.
“And they were winners in our book, no matter what,” he recalled.
After six innings, they made it official.
“They went out there and played a near-perfect game,” Kessler said.
Defense was the key to the win, even though the score said 19-1.
“The reason we scored so many runs, the reason we won the ball game, was that unlike some of the other games, these kids made every play on the field. Every one. One through 12.
“Twelve players on the team, they all played, and every single one of them contributed defensively,” Kessler said.
The same group of coaches were at the helm of the Bainbridge All-Star team last year, but they have all coached the players on the championship team — or coached against them — one time or another during previous Little League seasons.
“We all know them really well,” Kessler noted.
There were only about 330 kids in Little League this year on the island, he added, with only four teams in the entire Majors division (about 46 kids).
A bunch of those players are on the 12-U team, “and these are the rest.”
Kessler has simple advice for his team as they head into the state tournament: “Just do what they did the last game.”
Great defense, and trust each other.
He remembered the words of one player in the dugout before the start of the Division 2 championship matchup with Gig Harbor: “We’re going to have to lift each other up and we’re going to have to believe in each other.
“Now it’s what they need to do,” he said.
Bainbridge will play the role of David at State, with Goliath being the deep and talented teams from Eastern Washington vying for the championship crown.
Bainbridge will face District 13 teams at the start, which consists of teams in the Spokane Valley area.
“But we’ve got the West Side advantage when we get to Woodinville,” Kessler added.
“We’ve got some pretty strong pitching, too: Dominic D’Amico, Ryan Rohrbacher and Kincaid Hopp. And AJ Larsen.
“AJ and Kincaid both, in the middle of our run, pitched amazing games. One was a shutout,” Kessler noted.
Kincaid had a three-game shutout, allowing just two hits and racking up 10 strikeouts. He also went 2-for-2 at the plate with three RBIs,” Kessler said.
“We feel like we can compete.”