By Jason Haddix
George Beck embraced one player after another in the right field grass of Reuben F. Click Little League Center’s Stokely Field on Thursday night.
The group of 11- and 12-year-olds had tears in their eyes after falling to top-seeded Illinois-Jackie Robinson West, 13-2, during the Little League Great Lakes Division semifinal round.
“I have been with these kids since they were eight years old,” Beck said. “To do what these kids have done in those five years has been remarkable.”
Beck told the players after the game to be proud of what they accomplished.
“There was probably a lot of people that didn’t think we would get through state,” Beck said. “We come here, go 2-2 and qualify for the semifinals, which was our first goal.
“We were two wins from Williamsport, unfortunately we ran into a good-hitting Illinois team we couldn’t find a way to slow down.”
As the designated visitors, Canfield stepped to the plate first and struck the first blow.
With two outs, Ethan Fletcher scampered to first base after chasing an outside pitch for strike three that Josh Houston was unable to glove. Then Brayden Beck drilled the first pitch he saw over the center-field wall for a two-run home run.
“To get up 2-0 was big,” George Beck said. “It was a big confidence boost for us.”
It was Brayden Beck’s first home run and just his second extra-base hit during the Cardinals’ five games in the Hoosier State. He finished the tournament 4 for 14.
“However, knowing how good they hit the baseball, I knew we would need more than two runs,” George Beck said.
He was correct.
Illinois answered in a big way with six straight hits to open the bottom of the first to tie the game at 2. It added two more, one on a sacrifice fly and another on a ground out to take a 4-2 lead after one inning.
“That Illinois team put on a hitting display and not just the top four guys,” Beck said. “It is up and down the line up and they can bring guys off the bench to do it also.”
They added four more in the second inning, highlighted by Marquis Jackson’s three-run home run that cleared the scoreboard in right field.
“I told them to keep fighting,” Beck said. “This team has had a lot of heart the entire season — the entire time they have been together.”
But nearly as fast as the Illinois bats heated up, Canfield’s went silent.
After Beck’s home run in the first inning and Jake Kowal’s single to open the second, the Cardinals were unable to get a runner on base.
Illinois starting pitcher Brandon Green retired nine straight hitters, six by way of strikeout.
Jackson put the game away for Illinois in the bottom of the third inning when took the first pitch of the at-bat and sent it over the left-field wall for his second long ball of the game and fourth of the tournament.
“We had an inside pitch and it looked like the hitter hit it off the handle and it flew 260 feet,” George Beck said. “If you make a pitch like that and he is able to drive the ball that far out of the ball park you have to tip your hat to them.”
Seth Velker was hitless in his two trips to the plated, but he led Canfield in hitting going 6 for 14 during the Cardinals’ five games. Ethan Fletcher, also hitless against Illinois, was 5 for 16.
“To be here was a phenomenal experience,” Beck said. “Something these kids will remember their entire life.”
Little League officials prohibited reporters from interviewing any players after the game.