As Warner Robins, Ga., celebrated its 6-3 victory over the Chantilly American Majors All-Stars on Friday night in Ceredo-Kenova, W.Va., Chantilly Coach Sean Matthews gave a final pep talk to his disappointed Little Leaguers.
"I told them I was really proud of them," Matthews said. "I told them to hold their heads high because they did what no other team in Chantilly had done before."
The next day Matthews watched a tape of his team's final game and reflected on its regional tournament run where his players went undefeated until the final game.
"[Warner Robins'] was very much like Southwestern Youth Association East," he said. "I think if we went out there again and played Chantilly baseball, we'd beat them."
The nationally televised game was far from the "David and Goliath" bout ESPN predicted. Instead, it was a battle between two teams at their peaks and featured four home runs and a pitching duel.
"We were supposed to be the underdogs because of our small size, but I never felt that way," Matthews said.
Even when the final Chantilly batter had two strikes against him with two outs in the bottom of the last inning, Matthews believed they were still in the game.
"I told my dad the next day that I thought we were still in it," he said. "We had some of our best hitters coming up. I never thought we were out of it."
His players reflected Matthews’ attitude.
"I was praying to get up there and hit," shortstop Mike Sciorra, 13, said. "I was up next and then Aaron Osborne was soon after. We definitely had a chance."
Center fielder Grant Bain, 13, said he thought his team was good enough to win despite the 6-3 deficit.
"Our team really wanted to win," he said. "I thought we could win [the game]."
Though the game ended without a comeback, it did feature some controversy.
In the top of the fifth inning, with men on second and third, the Warner Robins batter hit a grounder to the shortstop. The ball rolled and then deflected off the Warner Robins' base runner, which should have resulted in an out.
"It was a dicey situation," Sciorra said. "I was 100 percent certain that it hit [the runner] so I called a time out."
The officials deliberated for a few moments, but Matthews said that none of the umpires clearly saw what happened.
"[The umpire] said he didn't see it. Six umpires didn't see it," said Matthews. "It's just unfortunate, but that's part of baseball."
On the ESPN replay, the ball is shown deflecting off the base runner, but there are no instant replay rulings in Little League baseball.
The play that occurred after the missed call led to two runs being scored by Warner Robins on a run-down attempt that was mishandled by the Chantilly team.
"We had some trouble with that run-down," Matthews said. "I think the boys forgot that you just need to lead the player back to the base."
The two runs proved to be the difference in the game and soured Chantilly's bid to play in the Little League World Series. Sciorra said it's just one of baseball's lessons.
"We had a lot of momentum until that call. [Coach Matthews] just told us to hang in there," Sciorra said. "It's just baseball, keep hitting, keep your head up high."
Even though the outcome didn't end in Chantilly's favor, the players enjoyed a moment in the spotlight on ESPN during pre-game introductions.
"I've never done anything like it, it was so cool," Sciorra said. "We had to say our favorite player and the camera got right in your face. I accidentally said David White instead of [New York Mets star] David Wright. We had fun with it."
With the Little League season complete, team members can look back at their tournament run fondly, even if it didn't end with a trip to Williamsport.
"I'm going to miss hitting home runs, the atmosphere, the close pitching and the team," Sciorra said. "I want to go have batting practice with my team right now."