Biggest Stage Yet: Western Little Leaguers to play regionals on TV

After Steven Howell hit the walk-off single that propelled the Pine Bluff Western Little League past White Hall in the 11-and-12-year-old Little League state championship, he cried tears of joy.

When teammate Andrew Crossett asked him why he was crying, Howell said, “I can’t believe we won.”

Western scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to defeat White Hall 9-8 and clinch a spot in this week’s Little League Southwest Regional.

“Shauwn Howell got that hit and Daniel Koonce ran as fast as he ever could run,” coach Marvin Hence said. “And we scored. It was a team effort.

“What it comes down to is teamwork. This is a scrappy little team.”

Western leaves Wednesday to travel to Waco, Texas, and the tournament will begin on Friday.

“I’m really excited to go to Waco,” 12-year-old Tyler Brown said. “I’m ready to play and happy to go.

“I’m really happy to represent Arkansas.”

Brown said winning the state championship was extra special to him because not only did they defeat White Hall — their rival — but also one of his former coaches, Jason Young.

“I knew their head coach,” Brown said. “He was like my second dad.”

Western will play New Mexico on Friday at 1 p.m. and Colorado on Saturday at 1 p.m. It will face Mississippi on Monday night at 8:30.

Each game will be shown on the Longhorn Network (Channel 407) on Dish Network.

If Western finishes in the top two of its pool, it will play on ESPN2 next Tuesday at either 4 p.m. or 7 p.m.

“I am look forward to winning,” Tink Hence said. “And learning more about baseball and getting better.”

Hence, who has been playing baseball since he was 3, said it “felt good” to defeat White Hall in the state championship.

“It was the first one in the history of Western League,” Hence said. “It felt real good.”

“It meant a lot,” pitcher Austin Weatherford said. “People thought we were going to lose, but then we came back and won.

“It’s like we are a comeback team and we can fight through anything.”

Randy Little — who had a two-run home run in the state championship — said speed is the team’s biggest strengths.

“And we can hit the ball real good,” Little said.

“I’d say defense, pitching, bunting and speed are our main strengths,” Brown said.

Marvin Hence said the biggest challenge as the regional approaches is keeping his team humble.

“We are here for one goal, and that’s to play together,” Hence said. “There are so many good kids on this team, but no one player can win this game.

“So we have to keep them motivated, keep them humble and keep them focused.”

Because this is the first time in which Pine Bluff is playing in the Regional, Hence knows this is a special time for the city and the team.

“When you are doing something for the first time, it has to be special,” Hence said. “It has to be special.

“If you don’t treat it special, then it is just an ordinary game, ordinary day.”

Manager Andy Crossett said the team leaves Wednesday and report on Thursday. He said the team is still accepting donations and to contact him if are willing to donate.

“I hope we go down there and represent our state well,” Crossett said.

According to Crossett, the biggest challenge is not knowing how the kids will respond. But if you were to ask any of the players, they aren’t nervous at all.

“Maybe I’m a little nervous,” Weatherford said.

“I’m not nervous,” Little said.