SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — They came to South Williamsport with dreams of winning the Little League World Series.
And for the Vancouver-based Little Mountain Mountaineers — the Canadian champions who entered the tournament with a 20-0 record this season — it seemed a legitimate goal.
But the Mountaineers lost 4-2 to Panama in an elimination game Tuesday, a day after being hammered 23-0 by Taiwan.
Their dreams were dashed. But, as always with this resilient group of adolescents, their grief was brief.
“There were a few tears, and lots of people hugging their parents,” manager Pat Chaba said in a phone interview.
“But all in all, I think they’re pretty proud of themselves.”
The Canadians, who had opened the tournament with a 4-2 win over Panama on Saturday, fought hard Tuesday after the Latin American reprsentatives took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
Zach Chaba, 13 years old and just shy of 100 pounds, hit his second-ever home run in the top of the third inning to tie the game.
”That’s a pretty big way to go out of your little league career,“ Pat Chaba said of his son’s blast over the right field-wall.
But Panama kept coming, pulling ahead 4-1 by the top of the final inning.
A last-inning run by 13-year-old Lucas Soper, who stole home on a wild pitch after hitting a triple, wasn’t enough for the Mountaineers.
Panama pitcher Luis Bazan secured the win by retiring three straight Canadian batters with his unforgiving curve ball.
In other games Tuesday, Toms River, N.J., shut out Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 10-0 in a consolation game; Columbus, Ga., remained unbeaten with a 6-0 shutout of Hamilton, Ohio; Auburn, Wash., eliminated Fairfield, Conn., after a 9-5 victory; and Tokyo clinched a spot in the international finals with a 3-2 win over Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
The season may be over, but it seems the memories are just beginning for the Mountaineers.
The boys still have six days in South Williamsport, where they will sign autographs for local fans and likely play a few exhibition games against some international competition.
They’ll also play video games and swim in an Olympic-size pool at their hotel.
The Mountaineers put on a display of sportsmanship throughout the tournament, even during Monday’s 23-0 shellacking by Taiwan.
Through moments of frustration, they smiled and cheered each other, catching the attention of ESPN’s commentators, who were impressed by the team’s spirit.
It was an attitude that the team’s coaches instilled from the first day. Frowning players were required to sniff a smelly sock, dugout dance-offs were encouraged and a ceramic goose mascot travelled with the team for luck.
When it comes to how the season will be remembered, Chaba believes there will be no regrets.
“They gave everything they had to give, and there’s no shame for these kids at all,” he said. “When you give your absolute best, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed about.”