To be one of 16 Little League baseball teams left in America is saying quite a lot.
Coon Rapids-Andover American Little League was within one game of winning the Midwest Region title, played in Indianapolis, Ind., and a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., before Urbandale, Iowa, broke a 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 3-2 victory at the Ruben F. Glick Little League Baseball Center, Aug. 9.
Joshua Neyens scored on a wild pitch by Lucas McCain. Neyens led off with a base hit which was followed by an error and walk to fill the bases with no outs.
The loss was the first in the regional tournament for the Coon Rapids-Andover team after going 5-0 with a combined score of 71-10 in those games.
Iowa scored in the bottom of the first inning before Carsen Syke doubled and later scored on a passed ball to tie the game in the top of the second inning.
Iowa retook the lead, 2-1, but Coon Rapids-Andover tied the game for a second time in the fifth inning when Wil Goodin continued to impress at the plate, driving home Matthew Brodeur for a 2-2 score.
Syke and Goodin combined for 29 hits and 26 RBIs in the regional games. Goodin led off the semifinal win against South Dakota with a home run.
Coon Rapids opened regions with a 16-5 win against South Dakota Aug. 2; 13-0 win against Missouri Aug. 3; 31-0 win against Kansas Aug. 4 and 7-5 win against Nebraska in seven innings to end pool play.
It was a remarkable ride for a group of 11- and 12-year-old boys along with four coaches and their families that made memories that will last a lifetime.
Coon Rapids coach Marc Backowski emphasized the memories the team made both on the baseball diamond and away from the game. Interacting with the other teams was a big component of their time. “When the games were done the [teams] hung out together, talking about school, the baseball season and of course trading pins,” Backowski said.
Braden Farley’s nickname is “Flow” for a reason. “He can get anyone laughing,” Backowski said. “But he was also the king of pin trading.”
Backowski overheard a conversation from another team just after Farley received eight pins for one of his.
Aside from the pins, teams spent a lot of time in the pool, playing ping pong, wiffleball or making up a game that involved a ball and the pool inside the team-only housing complex.
On the field, Backowski said the team emphasized the importance of everyone making a play in the field for a win. “Every single kid on the field made a play in the district final and that’s how we liked to look at the team,” he said.
“Without Luke Backowski catching the throw from shortstop we wouldn’t have made a play or if Nolan Belschner didn’t pitch so well in the district final we wouldn’t be in the regional.”
Belschner was pitcher in both the district (at St. Louis Park) and state (at Grand Rapids) championship games.
According to Backowski, Belschner was a “force to be reckoned with on the mound.”
“Nolan has two things that work well for him, locating pitches and he has a curveball that comes out of his hands looking like fastball and gets [the batter] looking,” Backowski said.
Backowski compared the run over the last month with a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Coon Rapids thought its season ended in district play after losing a second game in the pool round.
“Based on the info we had, we were out of it,” Backowski said. “Every kid went home knowing their Little League experience was over.”
That was until the team received a glimmer of hope through a number of circumstances which went in favor of Coon Rapids.
“These kids went from basically defeated to a commanding and dominating team in regions,” Backowski said as the team went on to win 16 games before Friday’s loss.
All the Midwest Regional games were webcast through ESPN with the semifinal and final games broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN, respectively.
Handling the pressure of playing on television added a new dynamic for Coon Rapids-Andover.
“We hadn’t been to Indy in 22 years so we didn’t have a lot to draw on as far as experience goes,” Backowski said. “So when ESPN shows up it be can different.”
Most notably was seeing one of his players make “Sports Center’s” No. 4 spot on the daily Top 10 plays.
Pitcher Ryan Dainty earned a complete game shutout against South Dakota. Dainty struck out nine and had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. That came after he held Coon Rapids Central to one hit in a must-win game in district pool play.
Looking back on the entire run through the post season, Backowski summed it up best when he said,” “It’s tough to walk out of that scenario as a failure. It’s a huge positive from the league perspective because our goal every year is to win state and take it from there so to get to Indy and to be within one win and couple outs short of making it to Williamsport is a remarkable thing.”
Anticipating more kids from Coon Rapids and Andover signing up to play Little League baseball in 2014, Backowski said the league might need to look at adding lighting to the fields to meet the possible increase in demand for playing time.
“We’re reaching the capacity now and we’ve got to have room for them to play,” he said.
Jason Olson is at