Now that really had to hurt.
A Little League team from Greenville, N.C., suffered a major heartbreak Saturday afternoon in Williamsport, Pa., losing a 5-0 lead and the American championship to a team from Texas.
A two-run homer by Mark Requena of Texas in the top of the sixth and final inning erased the last bit of North Carolina’s lead, which had been 5-0 after three innings.
The Greenville team wasn’t able to squeeze across a tying run in its last at-bat, going down 1-2-3. That means Texas will face Japan Sunday afternoon in the Little League World Series final and the Greenville team was eliminated from championship contention.
“Keep your heads up,” Greenville manager Brian Fields told his 12- and 13-year-old team members, several of whom were crying, at game’s end. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Greenville team was trying to make history and came close – no team from either of the Carolinas has ever won the LLWS.
Not since 2004, in fact, had a team from North Carolina gotten all the way to the LLWS. That happened when a squad from Morganton, N.C., made it to Williamsport, but lost twice before advancing to the championship game.
This Greenville team -- which called itself “North State” -- had attracted all sorts of attention this week as it advanced deeper and deeper into the tournament behind strong pitching. It had won its first three games and allowed only a single hit and a single run while doing so. If it had won the game Saturday against Texas, Greenville had its ace pitcher ready to start against Japan (he was ineligible to pitch Saturday due to the strict pitch-count rules in Little League).
The team from Lufkin, Texas, will play Japan in Sunday afternoon’s 2017 final. The Greenville team will return home to a celebration, which the city had planned to hold regardless of outcome.
Fields repeatedly said in the postgame news conference of his team: “I’m so proud of them. I’m so proud of them.”