If Rancho Santa Margarita wasn't going to come home from the Little League World Series with the championship banner, coach C.J. Ankrum was determined his 13 players would come home with some lasting memories. So when the ball settled in the glove ...
If Rancho Santa Margarita wasn’t going to come home from the Little League World Series with the championship banner, coach C.J. Ankrum was determined his 13 players would come home with some lasting memories.
So when the ball settled in the glove of Jackson, N.J. first baseman R.J. Vashey, finishing the 12-9 loss that eliminated Rancho from the tournament Monday, Ankrum lined the team up along the first-base line, where the players applauded their parents, then led them to the center-field wall, where each boy touched the iconic bust of Little League benefactor Howard J. Lamade.
“We hadn’t gone out there and visited that yet,” Ankrum said. “And now that we’re officially done and out, I wanted to make sure that the last time they were on this field, that they were able to go out there and touch him.”
But there was one thing Ankrum wouldn’t allow his players to do and that was hang their heads. The team had weathered a solar eclipse and a 76-minute rain delay, and erased most of an 11-run deficit before finally running out of outs Monday.
Jackson, champion of the Mid-Atlantic Region, advances to the semifinals of the loser’s bracket against the winner of Monday’s late game between Walla Walla, Wash., and Fairfield, Conn.
For Rancho, meanwhile, the World Series is over after an opening-game win and back-to-back losses. For Ankrum, however, they were losses on the scoreboard only.
“There was a victory today by the way that they handled themselves,” he said. “They could have folded at 12-1. We could have packed our stuff and left.
“But they didn’t. They kept plugging along.”
The one obstacle Rancho couldn’t overcome was Vashey, who belted first-pitch home runs in his first two at-bats Monday. Vashey, who bats fifth in the Jackson lineup, said teammates told him Rancho starter Joey Gray had started them off with fastballs “so I was just looking first-pitch fastball,” he said.
“[I] saw it. Just hammered it.”
The first homer, to dead center in the second inning, erased a 1-0 Rancho lead. The second, which landed in nearly the same spot, sparked a nine-run third inning that gave Jackson a 12-1 advantage.
Rancho didn’t quit, though, answering with five runs of its own in the bottom of the inning, then bringing the tying run to the on-deck circle in the sixth. But Jackson shortstop Ryan Kinsman short-circuited the rally by starting a double play.
“It was getting a little hairy at the end. We do nothing easy,” Jackson coach Robert Grano said. “The double play was a huge play. Great play. If he doesn’t make that double play, I don’t know if we’re sitting here right now.”
If Jackson ended the game with defense, it won it the way it has won all summer — by pounding the ball. The Holbrook Little League all-stars, who averaged more than 10 runs in the past seven games — including three World Series contests — pounded out 16 hits against Rancho, including the two homers from Vashey and another from Charlie Meglio.
Vashey finished with three hits while Meglio, Garrett Drew and J.R. Osmond had two each. Jackson got at least one hit from 11 players.
Drew Rutter, Gray, A.J. Gamulao and Tyler Ankrum got two hits apiece from Rancho. Rutter also drove in three runs while Ankrum scored three.
“They are champions,” C.J. Ankrum said of his players, who finished their summer with a 17-2 record and a West Regional title. “They always say that when you come out of Southern California, or California in general, that it gets easier. It didn’t get easier here.
“We’re one of the top 16 teams in the world. That’s something to be proud of.”
Less than an hour after the game, the Rancho players had showered and put the loss behind them. Some visited with family members, some paired up with friends to play other games while some returned to the stadium complex to watch the two late contests. With the first day of school looming next week, none were particularly anxious to leave South Williamsport.
And their coach was fine with letting them stay to continue making memories.
“That was a special experience,” Ankrum said. “There’s not a sense of urgency to get out of here as fast as you can because you’ll never be back here again. So might as well enjoy it right?”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11
Rancho Santa Margarita Little League,Little League World Series,solar eclipse,rain delay