They kept hope alive until the final pitch, but the Taney Dragons couldn’t make magic happen one more time in the Little League World Series at Williamsport.
In game delayed by rain, Philadelphia’s finest Little League team ever lost an elimination game 6-5 Thursday night to a Chicago team that will now play for the U.S. championship on Saturday.
The ride ended sooner than planned for the Taney players, but their winning ways captured imaginations not just in their home city but also across the nation, turning middle-schoolers into media darlings. Star pitcher Mo-ne Davis became the youngest athlete ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated (though now some might add her to the list of victims of the famous S.I. jinx).
Even with the defeat, head coach Alex Rice said this year’s Little League experience was the “best summer of his life.”
“None of us in a million years would have guessed,” he said, “that we would be spending two weeks in Williamsport when the season started back in March or really back in last September when we got to work.”
Rice said he told the players after the game “to just to feel incredibly good about themselves individually and as a team.”
The night began promisingly, as Taney got on the board first, putting up two runs in the first inning off strong hitting by Zion Spearman. But Chicago scored four runs off some fielding errors by Taney.
By the third inning, Chicago was up 6-3.
At the top of the fourth, Taney looked for a rally after a Chicago pitching change, loading the bases. Zion Spearman ripped a single to drive in two runs, ending the inning 6-4. In the fifth, a huge Kai Cummings home run narrowed Chicago’s lead to 6-5.
In a heart-stopping final inning, Taney seemed poised for a comeback, but it wasn’t to be. The game ended on a fly ball to right field, with the tying run camped on third, never to make it the final steps to home.
Going into the game, Taney families and supporters were putting the whole World Series whirlwind in perspective.
“If the kids focus and play well and hit, we have a pretty good chance,” said Taney parent Quyen Shanahan. “I’ve been trying to savor it a little more and enjoy this experience. It’s been fantastic. I never thought that we’d be here and be this far.”