He rushed outside to celebrate in the street with family and friends, fell and chipped a tooth. That was Ashton Cave in 1990. That’s how he remembers those thrilling minutes after UNLV’s basketball team won its national championship.
If you can call a chipped tooth all that thrilling.
“Born and raised a Rebel fan,” Cave said Friday. “When I think of a Final Four, I think of those UNLV teams.”
He was 12 at the time, one of countless Las Vegas kids who lived and died with every slam dunk and blowout victory of Jerry Tarkanian’s team.
Cave can still recite the roster of the 1990 champions and the ’91 national semifinalists.
He still lights up mentioning all the names.
He led a team to its own Final Four on Saturday in Williamsport, where Cave and his Mountain Ridge club played in the U.S. championship game of the Little League World Series at Lamade Stadium.
The team from Las Vegas lost to the Great Lakes champion from Chicago 7-5, meaning Mountain Ridge now plays international runner-up Japan for third place at 7 a.m. PDT today on ESPN (30).
None of that alters this truth: By becoming the first team in Nevada history to reach a Little League World Series and then winning its first three game in dominant fashion to reach the U.S. championship, Mountain Ridge now ranks second to those Final Four teams of UNLV in 1990 and ’91 as the most successful team in Las Vegas history.
And it’s not close.
This isn’t a list based on individual success. Andre Agassi and Greg Maddux are Hall of Famers in their sports, two Las Vegans whose faces certainly would be carved into any Mount Rushmore of Nevada sports history.
But in judging those accolades of historic teams, Mountain Ridge will finish no worse than fourth on a world stage. It’s Little League, yes. The players are ages 11 to 13, of course. But the entire country and eight additional regions around the globe are represented in Williamsport.
It’s a huge event.
There is also this: Historic teams tend to bring communities together. Nothing unites people of different colors and religious beliefs and social backgrounds like sport. It unifies us.
Look at the excitement and pride and passion the Mountain Ridge team, a group of 14 boys and a coaching staff of three, created in Las Vegas the past few weeks.
The parties. The social media posts. The TV ratings.
It’s a no-brainer for ranking the all-time greatest Las Vegas sports teams.
1. UNLV basketball of the early 1990s.
2. Mountain Ridge Little League of 2014.
“I would agree with that,” Cave said. “Obviously, we have been here the entire time, so we have only heard about what is going on back home. The kids know a little bit about it, but there is no way they have fully grasped yet the impact they have made in Las Vegas.They brought a lot of different people together. Any time you can accomplish that, you understand the purpose of life.
“The kids deserve all the credit. They worked so hard just to get here.”
The goal now: Educating the players on how to handle what will come upon their arrival home.
Mountain Ridge returns to Las Vegas on Monday evening, and school will have already started for its players. But crazy things tend to happen to those who become famous overnight under the glare of ESPN cameras at the Little League World Series, players that stories will be written about 10 and 20 years from now when others look back at this historic run.
How each handles it could determine if this experience ultimately is seen as a good or damaging one on an individual basis.
“They have no clue what it’s going to be like, and we as coaches and parents will do our best to prepare them and educate them,” Cave said. “These kids picked up thousands of (social media) followers the past few weeks, and because of that, need to be mindful of what comes with it. We need to protect them.
“For me, I’m glad it’s almost over. I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything, but it’s time we all got back to real life. I miss reading books to my kids at night, to my young daughter and 4-month-old son. We have been away from home for months. It’s time to get back to reality.”
When they do, know this: Their place in the history of Las Vegas sports teams is cemented.
They’re a solid second behind the chipped tooth era.
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.