In the past 47 days, there have been 16,000 little league baseball games played around the world in order to decide who qualifies for the 2022 Little League World Series. Only 20 teams remain, and one of them is the team from Massapequa Coast Little League.
“It’s a ‘WOW’ moment,” said head coach Roland Clark.
After going 15-2 during summer tournament play, the Massapequa Coast Little League won the inaugural Metro Region tournament to become one of the final 20 little league teams in the world.
The Metro Region, comprised of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island was created this year by breaking apart the East Region, which is historically the largest U.S. region when it comes to the Little League World Series. Now, the boys from Massapequa Coast will always be known as the first Metro Region champions.
“They knew they would be a part of Little League History in Massapequa, but these boys’ names and the team name is solidified in little league history now.”
In Massapequa, like in much of the Tri-State area, there are two little league organizations that split the town in half. Massapequa Coast has been around for 72 years, and this is the first time in the history of the 12-year-old Williamsport age bracket that the little league has even advanced beyond the state tournament.
It’s also the first time in over 40 years that a team from Long Island has advanced to the Little League World Series after Rockville Centre qualified in 1978.
But this Massapequa Coast team hasn’t just advanced, they’ve looked like a juggernaut at times.
After going 2-1 in pool play during the state tournament, Massapequa Coast advanced to the playoff portion, where they won their first game by a mercy rule, then won the semi-finals 10-0, and beat West Nyack 15-5 in the finals to advance to the Regional tournament.
“When we won the first game of the state tournament in extra innings, we started to think that this might be possible,” remembers Coach Clark. “Kids were making diving plays. Boys were going 3-3 against great competition. Players with power who had never hit home runs were starting to hit balls over the fence.”
However, it’s the way the team responded in moments of adversity that helped it to get to this point.
In the district tournament, the first step of qualification for the Little League World Series, Massapequa Coast lost a game and was forced to advance out of the loser’s bracket. Their first game in the state tournament went into extra innings before the team prevailed in eight innings. Time after time, they responded when they needed to.
Including in the game that got them into the Little League World Series.
After beating Toms River East (New Jersey) early in the regional tournament, Massapequa Coast was set to face them again in the finals. However, despite this being a double-elimination tournament and Massapequa Coast having no losses, the finals were a winner-take-all game, meaning that, if they lost, Massapequa Coast would be sent home despite having the same amount of losses as a team they had already defeated.
That opponent was also no ordinary team. Toms River East reached the Little League World Series last year and was seeking their second streak of back-to-back LLWS appearances after they qualified in both 1998 and 1999. In 1998, led by future New York Yankee and Met Todd Frazier, Toms River East went undefeated and won the Little League World Series.
Instead of dwelling on the challenge in front of them, Massapequa Coast went out and made a statement, winning 4-0 and throwing a no-hitter in order to claim their sport in Williamsport, PA.
“To beat a team of that caliber and to do it in the way that we did was really special and it showed the effort of all 11 boys,” said Coach Clark. “Our pitcher was great, but the players in the field had to make the plays. Players had to want to make the play. Everybody wanted the ball.”
Much of that desire to rise to the occasion can be attributed to the hard work that the players on the team have put in over the years.
“The boys in Massapequa Coast started playing tee ball around five or six, so we’ve known the majority of these boys, not just through baseball but through other sports and knowing each other in the town and the friendships and going to school together,” said Coach Clark.
“At about age eight or nine Massapequa Coast Little League puts together a summer all-star team of about 15 players,” he explained. “Each year after that, the number starts to dwindle down. Last year, we had 12 players on the 11-under team, and we lost in the district.”
“In May, the intramural coaches voted on a team, and this team is basically the same [as the one from 2021], so the boys are so happy that their hard work over the course of the last two years, including losing out on their 10-year-old summer (due to COVID), is paying off.”
The Massapequa Coast team has been practicing five or six days a week since the start of June while also mixing in games to prepare for the tournament season. Sometimes the boys would go to the local diner for dinner or meet up together to watch the MLB Home Run Derby in the hopes of continuing to build team chemistry.
It’s been an all-encompassing journey to get to Williamsport. Not just for the players, but for the coaches and parents as well. Coach Clark is assisted by coaches Brian Bekiers, Anthony Badagliacca, and Eric Minnini.
“Myself and my three coaches are all volunteers,” explained Coach Clark. “We make a lot of sacrifices with work and our family members. The parents have also bought in as well. Sometimes it’s difficult for parents to make that 100% commitment to give up summer trips and vacations.”
But the dedication and commitment of everybody involved has paid off.
The Massapequa Coast Little League will kick off their Little League World Series on Friday night at 7 pm ET on ESPN against the Honolulu Little League, which won the West Region. Honolulu made it to the semi-finals of the Little League World Series last year and won the entire tournament in 2018, so it will be another tough challenge for the boys from Long Island.
“The boys know they’re playing a powerhouse team,” explained Coach Clark, but the team is also not losing sight of the bigger picture of all they’ve accomplished so far. “People are stopping the boys and saying, ‘Hey, I grew up in New York’ or ‘I watched your game on ESPN.'”
“The wins and losses are still important, but this is the pinnacle. They’re signing baseballs. They trade pins and slide down the hill. The boys are just soaking everything in.”
When they prepare for the first pitch on Friday night, they will be soaking in an environment that is expected to have upwards of 22,000 spectators. Far more than they play in front of back in Massapequa. But that doesn’t seem likely to phase this team.
“When they step out onto the field and that stadium is filled, I just want them to look around and take a deep breath, ” said Coach Clark. “Take it in and just exhale. They know that when they step between those foul lines, it’s baseball time.”
Massapequa Coast Little League is currently raising money to help send all immediate family members of the players to Williamsport, PA.
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