Could this be the year that the Red Land Little League finally sends a representative to Williamsport?
It's sure showing it has the potential to do so.
After rolling through the Section 4 Tournament unscathed and dismantling any and every opponent in sight, the York County club now finds itself in the state tournament in Skippack near Philadelphia, only two steps away from a trip to Williamsport and a berth in the Little League World Series.
With three more wins, Red Land will take the state title and head to Bristol, Conn., to compete in the six-team Mid-Atlantic Regional with a spot in the Little League World Series on the line.
Red Land has never been represented in Williamsport and would only be the third team from York County to make it to the regional round, with Red Land qualifying in 1974 and then York in 1980.
But, if there was ever a year for Red Land to finally break through, this is shaping up to be the one.
That's not to say that any of the previous teams didn't have the makeup, but it almost seems that this year's squad was specifically built for Williamsport. Going through the lineup, there are no breaks for opposing pitchers. The No. 9 hitter is just as capable of getting on base and driving in a run as the leadoff man, something that's been evident and on full display in every step of the team's playoff run.
And while this team can wear down the opposition going base-to-base with singles and doubles, it also loves the long ball.
Red Land launched five home runs in its first state playoff game against Back Mountain, the Section 5 champion that hails from northeast Pennsylvania, on Monday, including three in the decisive 10-run fifth inning that led a 14-4 mercy-rule victory. It then added eight more in Wednesday's game against the same Back Mountain squad to avoid elimination and send its opponent packing. The power throughout the lineup, that can almost be contagious at times, is a big reason why this team never feels as though it's out of a game and why its opponents quickly find themselves down early ... and by a lot.
So far in its quest for Williamsport, Red Land is outscoring its playoff opponents 199-45 through its first 13 games, going 12-1 in the process. This is a team centered around power and offense, more willing to outslug opponents than win in a pitching duel. And while its explosive identity remains intact as it battles for the state crown, perhaps Red Land's biggest strength is one that isn't told by the crooked numbers it routinely puts up on the scoreboard.
Tight-knit group: The selection process of this hand-picked team of all-stars seems to have a little more to it than just which players had the best season. The majority of this team is made up of players who also play for the GoWags travel baseball teams, spread out among four different teams that compete in 11-and-under and 12-and-under leagues, with some playing on multiple teams. Essentially, these kids play baseball with each other more than they eat or sleep. They rely on each other and have faith that the next guy in line will get his job done. It's that exact bond that's led Red Land on this impressive run during the summer months that's had many more ups, than downs.
The one low point so far came on Monday when Allegheny County's Collier Township blew out Red Land 13-4, putting it in the losers' bracket and on the brink of elimination. From that point forward, every state game for Red Land has been, and will continue to be, an elimination game. But even with its back against the wall, the Red Land players have managed to rally around each other — and the long ball — and power forward, keeping its shot at Williamsport alive.
The Little League World Series may still be a ways down the road and the competition will only get stiffer as this team progresses further in the tournament, but there's something special about this group of 11 and 12 year olds who take the field every night. They play for the love of the game and it's brought a sense of excitement and entertainment for its fans and the York County community.
Red Land has never made it to the Little League World Series, but this team is giving us good reason to believe that drought could finally come to an end.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.