The fifth seeded Vienna Little League (VLL) AAA Tigers shook off early jitters, controversial calls and a furious last inning comeback featuring a 3-run homer, to hold off the American League Champion Royals, 8-5 Friday before an exuberant crowd at Rhodes Field at Yeonis Park. The win completed an improbable run by a team with "hearts that are much, much bigger than the size of the players"—said VLL American League President Jitendra Joshi. The Tigers finished the season with a six-game winning streak including four playoff wins, three of which were over teams they had not beaten this year. In succession, the Tigers knocked off the Padres the undefeated and first seeded Dodgers, and now the Royals.
The six-inning contest ended like the semi-finals, with Wesley Clarke on the mound, this time squeezing a soft line drive with the top of the order looming in the hole and the tying run in the on-deck circle. This slammed the door on a Royals rally that brought them from down 8-2 at the start of the inning. With one out, a run in and a man on second, the Royals' Will Lavallee hit a towering home run off the tarp beyond the center field fence, and suddenly the score was 8-5. But Clarke calmly struck out the next batter before getting the final pop out.
In the top half of the inning, the Tigers stretched a 5-2 lead to 8-2 when Evan Mazur cracked a single, scoring two runs, which turned out to be the difference in the game. But every Tiger had a contribution—large and small—as has been their trademark in the last four weeks. Moreover, the Tigers throughout the game—and the playoffs—displayed their characteristic composure by squelching several Royal threats at big rallies.
The Royals scratched out a run to open the scoring in the first, but that threat was doused by a double play. Shortstop Tyler Schoeberlein snagged a line drive and ran all the way to first (saving a risky throw) to double off the runner. David Neidecker then struck out the last batter, continuing his remarkable first inning playoff dominance despite a persistent viral infection. Mark Quantrill replaced Neidecker on the mound and held the Royals scoreless, maintaining the Tiger deficit at 1-0.
But the Tigers went to work in the top of the third. David Calderon continued his steady hitting with a sharp single, and then ended up on third base with a steal and a passed ball. Then Charlie Thompson, who along with Neidecker, embodies the determination of these scrappy tigers, hit a screaming line drive to center field, tying the game at 1-1. The Tigers went on a tear after that. J. P Prillemen walked, Neidecker moved both runners over with a nifty slap sacrifice to the right side, and Tyler Schoeberlein then smashed a single scoring both runners. Clarke followed with a double, Quantrill moved Clarke over with a ground out, and Michael Ciardelli singled home Clarke.
In total, Tiger pitchers walked only three batters the entire game and for the playoffs threw nearly 80 percent of their pitches for strikes. There were no easy outs up and down their lineup as evidenced by the bottom of the lineup starting the third inning rally that was completed by the top of the order.
The atmosphere was high spirited and passionate with parents and fans wearing custom t-shirts and waving flags and signs in support of their teams. The championship was the first for Robert Neidecker, a 7-year VLL coach with a reputation for teaching excellent fundamentals with a kid-friendly positive approach. Assistant coaches Adam Schoeberlein, Jim Quantrill and Jim Mazur rounded out the coaching staff.