With back-to-back wins over Millsboro on Friday, July 15, and Saturday, July 16, the Lower Sussex Little League Junior League All-Stars clinched their second straight District 3 championship and will gear up for the state tournament starting Thursday, July 21.
Made up primarily of members of the 2015 district championship team and 2015 Pat Knight championship team, the revamped squad started the series with a 4-0 win over Georgetown on Saturday, July 9, and 10-0 win over Laurel on Sunday, July 10, not allowing a single hit in the process.
“We’re blessed with a lot of pitching, that’s for sure,” said head coach Bill Medford, who coached the Pat Knight championship team last season. “Our whole bullpen pitched lights out. It was a collaborative effort.”
Things would heat up after the team suffered their first loss of the double-elimination tournament to Millsboro on Tuesday, July 12.
Then, facing Woodbridge in the potential elimination game the next night, title hopes would rest in the hands of OF/P Caleb Smith, who took the hill in relief to solidify an 11-5 victory.
“He came in and slammed the door. They didn’t score another run,” Medford said of Smith’s third-inning entrance during that game. “His pitching was just shut-down the whole tournament. Whenever he came in, that was it.”
Improving to 3-1, the Woodbridge win earned LSLL not only another shot at the crown, but another shot against undefeated Millsboro as well.
To advance to states, however, they’d have to beat them twice.
“I really didn’t have any doubt, even though I knew it was gonna be tough,” Medford said. “The kids, they almost seemed like they wanted to be the underdogs. They played their hearts out basically from the first pitch of the game to the last pitch of the game. I was proud of them.”
Bouncing back from their July 12 loss to the same squad, Lower Sussex rolled to a 12-1 victory in Game 1, before sealing a consecutive District 3 title and earning a state tournament bid in Game 2 with a 17-6 win.
Closing out the championship on the mound was 2B/P Tyler Kramer, whose brother — LSLL alumnus Trevor Kramer — passed away in March after a battle with cancer.
“Not only were we playing for Trevor, but we were playing for Tyler and the whole community,” Medford explained of the accomplishment’s added meaning. “There’s a lot of love in that group. They’re tight. They’re all good friends.”
Also contributing on the mound in that game was pitcher Aaron King, who pitched five innings of relief.
Offensively, 1B/P Kris Medford racked up three doubles and nine RBIs on five hits in the 17-run performance.
Shortstop Kevin Custis tallied three runs in the game and increased his tournament total to 10 stolen bases, while RF Jalen Snead notched five runs and catcher Chase Hall managed a double.
With the lion’s share of the roster consisting of players from this year’s 6-2 Selbyville Middle School squad, and having played together on Lower Sussex teams throughout the years, Medford said it was the team’s chemistry that was responsible for their success, as well as their confidence going forward.
“We have a good bunch of kids, and they’re all playing for each other. Nobody’s out there playing for themselves, which is why we keep on competing like we have been,” he said.
“Everybody knows their role, everybody’s accepting of their role, and everybody plays their role to their fullest for the guy next to them. When it all comes down to it, they’re playing for the guy beside them, and they’re playing their hearts out. We’re very confident going forward, and we want more.”
Game 1 of the 2016 Delaware State Junior League All-Star Tournament was set for Thursday, July 21, (after Coastal Point press time). Lower Sussex was set to face the District 2 in that game. The full schedule is available at www.dedistrict3.org.