You never know until you know. Until the lights go on. Until the ESPN cameras roll. Until you see the thousands of faces in the stands and on the hill and everywhere your line of sight takes you in and around Lamade Stadium.
You never know how 12-year-olds might respond to the moment.
History can be a pretty tough burden to carry at that age.
Mountain Ridge baseball players didn’t appear all that fazed about it Thursday night.
The first team from Nevada to make the Little League World Series looked more like a veteran squad at the event, opening play with a 12-2 rout of the Midwest champion from South Dakota before a crowd of 7,928.
“You can look at all their faces and tell how they performed,” Mountain Ridge manager Ashton Cave said of his West Regional champs. “They had fun. Even when we were down 2-1 (in the second inning) and they hit a home run against us, we laughed. It was fun to see someone put it out against us, to keep our guys humble and realize everyone is here ready to play. There is a lot of pressure in this. But we did what we needed to do.
“We’ve never taken a game lightly. We have never not been prepared. They love to play. Just another day of fun.”
The 2-1 deficit was quickly a 4-2 lead. Then an 8-2 lead. Then a 12-2 lead after five innings, signifying a mercy rule victory for Mountain Ridge and a game against a terrific side from the Great Lakes at 11 a.m. PDT on Sunday on ABC.
More on that later. Expect offense. Lots of it.
“We didn’t come to play,” Midwest manager Rich Hegre said. “Our plate discipline was terrible. They’re a good ballclub, but we didn’t show up. We weren’t dialed in at all. Our focus wasn’t there, and that has been a struggle for us all week. It was a little embarrassing, frankly.”
It is generally accepted that whoever arrives to Williamsport representing the West will be favored to win the U.S. championship until someone proves better. It is why no state has won more World Series titles than California, because nothing builds winners like weather that allows for year-round play.
Mountain Ridge has been handed those expectations this year and played like a leading contender Thursday, totaling 12 hits and allowing four. It started ace pitcher Austin Kryszczuk and kept him below the 50-pitch limit that now allows him to throw a maximum of 85 on Sunday. That could prove huge.
Four players had at least two hits for Mountain Ridge, including three from Kryszczuk and a home run from Zach Hare.
“This whole ride has been fun for us,” Kryszczuk said. “Most of us have been playing together since we were 9 years old, and being together here is great. Still meshing together and now playing under the bright lights of Lamade Stadium.”
Things will get tougher quickly, because the Great Lakes team that also opened with a 12-2 win undoubtedly will be the best opponent Mountain Ridge has faced since beginning its All-Star journey.
The side from Chicago had 13 hits in a win against the Northwest champion, including four home runs. It’s a fast, powerful, fundamentally sound team that attacks pitches about as well as you could expect from kids this age.
“We are in for a game,” Cave said. “Just watching (Great Lakes) warm up, I knew they could play.”
This, you can expect from Mountain Ridge: It will be loose.
Cave has done a wonderful job keeping the moment in perspective and translating that viewpoint to his players. Even after four days of waiting to play a game here and obviously antsy to get things started Thursday, those from Mountain Ridge found a way to enjoy the surroundings of opening day.
“We let them trade pins and introduce themselves to people throughout the park,” Cave said. “They were taking pictures with girls and signing autographs. I told them to have fun. If they don’t do that, they’re missing out on the purpose of why they’re really here. Play baseball, but have fun. Take advantage of it. Live the dream. Enjoy the ride.”
Mountain Ridge might practice today. Might hit the cages. Might instead have family time with those parents and siblings who were able to make the trip. Might do all three.
Cave wasn’t sure late Thursday what the schedule would bring, satisfied only that his team had won its opening game. His players, however, were pretty specific about their desires.
“I want to take more pictures with girls,” first baseman Brennan Holligan said.
You never know until you know.
We know about Mountain Ridge now.
So far, the stage isn’t too big.
Quite the opposite.
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.