SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.
It was minutes before the biggest game of their young lives, one that could deliver their state a gigantic piece of history, a packed stadium and national television audience prepared to sit and watch and hang on every pitch.
Put it this way: Fingernails of those parents in attendance didn’t stand a chance.
And just outside their dugout, with the smiles and excitement and innocence you would expect from boys loving the game that once served as a way America passed time, were a group of players from Mountain Ridge Little League and their hip manager.
They were dancing to the song, “Cha Cha Slide.”
To the left
Take it back now y’all
One hop this time
Right foot lets stomp
Left foot lets stomp
Cha cha now y’all
They could have added a line right there.
Time to make plans for Williamsport y’all
Mountain Ridge on Saturday night made the history it so justly deserves, becoming the first Nevada team to advance to the Little League World Series, where a small town in Pennsylvania awakes each summer to the sounds of shrieking moms and dads and the pings of mammoth home runs delivered when ball meets composite-barreled bats that cost a small fortune.
Hand it to Mountain Ridge. When its time came to put Nevada on the map of those states to live a World Series dream, it didn’t delay. The kids from Las Vegas scored nine first-inning runs and never looked back, routing Pacifica, Calif., 11-2 before 8,556 at Al Houghton Stadium.
“An emotional, emotional ride,” said Mountain Ridge manager Ashton Cave, he of the nifty pregame dance moves. “We put a lot of time into selecting this team and it was about meshing, about humility. You need a bunch of humble players that get along and understand their roles. They’re role players, utility players, kids that whatever we ask of them, will step up and do it. That’s the difference.
“You know, I’m just so grateful. You can say the baseball gods were looking over us, that maybe this year was a perfect storm, first Nevada team to get there. ... But these kids put in a lot of time and hard work. Give them all the credit. So many years, so many lessons, so many people putting in quality time to get them to this point and develop their skills. They just happened to all live in the same area the last four or five years.”
This wasn’t close, by the way. Not just Saturday. The entire Western Regional.
Mountain Ridge coaches wear inspirational shirts with this message on the back: Always earned, never given.
Earned is right.
Mountain Ridge went 4-0 in pool play, then beat Southern California and Northern California by a combined score of 16-3 in two bracket games.
California has won seven Little League World Series championships, the most of any state and trailing only Taiwan and (17) and Japan (9) for the most in the history of an event that was first played in 1947.
It happened for so long, Little League teams driving south on Interstate 15 and crossing the state line into a chasm of dominant sides, always hoping for the magical time that might one day occur where kids from Nevada toppled mighty California.
That time officially arrived here Saturday when Zachary Hare retired the side in order in the bottom of the sixth.
A celebration at the mound.
Young boys crying tears of joy.
“It’s amazing to be here right now,” said Bradley Stone, who hit one of two Mountain Ridge home runs. “We can pass this feeling down to everyone we know. We will have this to remember forever. We had the right chemistry. We play hard. We’re not selfish. We had a goal and reached it.”
Their next goal will come upon arriving in Williamsport, where Mountain Ridge as the West representative opens the World Series on Thursday at 4 p.m. PST against the Midwest champion from Rapid City, S.D., on ESPN2.
A victory would send Mountain Ridge to a winner’s bracket game Sunday; a loss would mean facing an elimination game Saturday.
“I think this proves the talent in Southern Nevada is getting closer and closer and more competitive with states like California,” said Kristi Black, president of Mountain Ridge Little League. “We try and instill that in all our players from the beginning to when they are growing out of Little League baseball — develop their baseball skills, learn life skills and have fun. The kids came here focused and trying to achieve a dream.
“They do believe. We were able to represent (Nevada) here two straight years now and we want to be here again the next couple years. I think we have started making a name for ourselves. The kids had the time of their lives here, meeting and making friends with people from all over the country, relationships they will have the rest of their lives.”
The ride isn’t over.
This time we’re gonna get funky
Everybody clap your hands
Clap clap clap clap your hands
Clap clap clap clap your hands
Clap your hands for the boys from Mountain Ridge y’all
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.