WHITE HALL — Two years ago, the Pine Bluff Western Little League All-Stars were one win away from winning a state championship, but were beaten twice in the finale.
So when White Hall took a one-run lead in the top of the sixth inning, Western manager Andy Crossett started having a sense of déjà vu.
“I was sitting in this same situation two years ago,” Crossett said. “I’ve had that on my mind a lot.
“Wanting to win it for the guys that didn’t win it two years ago.”
Western responded in the bottom of the sixth with two runs — thanks to an RBI infield single by Shauwn Howell that gave Pine Bluff a 9-8 victory.
According to Crossett, it is Western’s first-ever state championship.
“That means a lot,” Crossett said. “It means a lot to me, it means a lot to these guys.
“When you are the first-time ever at doing something, it means an awful lot to you.”
Crossett said it just might not have set in for the kids yet.
“I know it will sink in,” Crossett said. “And ya’ll will remember being the first-ever to win the win the Western Little League championship.
“And I was just happy to be on the ride with them.”
Crossett said in 20 or 30 years, “these kids will come back and see their picture up for being the first-ever team.”
“It means a lot,” Crossett said.
Western had a 7-5 lead heading into the top of the sixth inning, but White Hall rallied for three runs to take a one-run lead.
“We had about eight errors in the first or second inning,” White Hall manager Jason Young said. “You can’t come and beat a team like that there and have that many errors early on in the game.”
Spencer Smith led off the sixth with a walk and scored on a two-out single by Colby Donaldson. An error at third allowed Clay Richardson to reach first and for Donaldson to score.
After an infield single by Wes Thurgood, Matt Rush gave White Hall the lead with an RBI single to right centerfield.
“Even though the fought back towards the end and give it a run, they weren’t willing to give up and kudos for that,” Young said. “It was a tough break.
“Our luck wasn’t there tonight.”
Randy Little and Daniel Koonce were issued back-to-back walks to start the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Brady Claypool hit an RBI single to tie the game and moved Koonce to third.
An infield single by Howell towards the left of second base gave Pine Bluff the walk-off win.
“It is not me that did anything,” Crossett said. “It is all these kids.
“They did it all.”
Crossett said it is tough enough to beat a team two out of three times, but to defeat White Hall four out of five times, is pretty incredible.
“It showed a lot of grit,” Crossett said. “It showed a lot of toughness for us to come back and win that game.”
Heading into the bottom of the second inning, White Hall and Western were tied at 1. But a four-run inning by Pine Bluff gave them a 5-1 advantage. They added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth thanks to a two-run home run by Little.
“I have all the respect for that team over there,” Crossett said of White Hall. “Because every time I came out and watched them play, they were hitting home run after home run after home run.”
White Hall scored a run in the first, the third and the fourth before adding two in the fifth and two in the sixth.
Koonce, who started for Western, pitched 3 2/3 innings in a no-decision. He allowed two runs on three hits with five strikeouts. Austin Weatherford earned the win after pitching the final two innings.
“(Weatherford) has been on my team for three years,” Crossett said. “I was going to save him for the second game.
“But I decided that it was all or nothing right here, might as well bring him in.”
Little finished the game 1 for 1 with two RBIs, three walks and two runs scored. Koonce was 2 for 3 with two RBIs and a run scored.
For White Hall, Donaldson had a single, an RBI and two runs scored.
Western will now travel to Waco, Texas for the Little League regionals, the last step before the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
Young calling it quits
After 14 seasons — coaching in almost every division of youth baseball — White Hall manager Jason Young is retiring.
“It is time to spend time with the family,” Young said. “I’ve been at it a while.
“I love the game, but it is time to move on.”
Young said he has coached from T-ball, to pitching machine, to live arm and to fall ball teams.
“I’ve had a couple of those kids (from Pine Bluff Western) on my fall ball team,” Young said. “It is great to see them come out and play and shine like that.
“They deserve it.”