If the players on the Northeastern 8-10-year-old Little League team were just a year or two older, they'd be one step away from playing in Williamsport in the Little League World Series.
Instead, they'll have to wait for another summer to try and achieve that feat.
In the meantime, they'll strive for a different championship.
On Sunday, July 30, Northeastern captured the Pennsylvania state championship with an 11-2 win over East Pennsboro, booking its spot in the Mid-Atlantic Regional, to be held in Cranston, Rhode Island.
"They're willing to fight through anything," head coach Gary Barshinger said. "They're willing to fail. They never give up."
In Sunday's win over East Pennsboro, Northeastern held a slim 2-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. After plating a run in that frame to hold a 3-0 cushion going into the final inning of regulation, the offense exploded to put the game out of reach. An eight-run top of the sixth ended any hope East Pennsboro had of coming back to force a winner-take-all game Monday. Northeastern, meanwhile, wrapped up the organization's first-ever state championship.
"We thought it was going to be a very close game and we went into it knowing it was going to be a battle," Barshinger said. "We thought it would be within a run or two and thought it was going to be tight."
Barshinger had good reason to believe Sunday's contest was going to be close after Northeastern pulled out a 9-6 win over East Pennsboro earlier in the double-elimination tournament.
The win in the championship game was the largest margin of victory of the state tournament for Northeastern and continued a summer run in which it hasn't lost a game. Over the course of counties, District 14, Section 7 and now states, Northeastern is 14-0.
That includes a win in the semifinals on Friday, July 28, over Nazareth, which included three comebacks. The team first erased a 3-0 deficit in the third inning and then tied the game in the bottom of the sixth to force extra innings. After that, trailing 7-5 in the eighth, Northeastern scored three times in the frame to win 8-7, courtesy of a walk-off, bases-loaded single.
Quick rise: The Northeastern Little League was chartered in 2011, so there isn't a long history to the team's existence.
Last summer, Northeastern won the District 14 title, its first-ever banner, before falling in the Section 7 competition. Now, after winning the state championship this year, the team has gone further than any team in the program's six-year existence.
Rising costs: A couple summers ago, the Red Land Little League team made it all the way to the championship game in Williamsport at the Little League World Series. Like that Red Land outfit, Northeastern is realizing the burden of a long summer run.
With costs to travel across the state and now up to Rhode Island making things tight on the budgets for the team and families of the players, Northeastern has created a GoFundMe page to help raise money. The Northeastern board has a meeting set up for Monday, July 31, to discuss an allocation of any extra funds.
Up next: The Mid-Atlantic Regional is the final step for Northeastern this summer.
There is no national competition on the 8-10 level like the one in Williamsport, for children ages 11-13. So the upcoming week of games is all that's left for Northeastern.
It'll be one of five teams representing the Mid-Atlantic Region in Rhode Island. The teams will do pool-play competition, with the top two teams from the pool playing in a Mid-Atlantic championship game.
After that, the winner of that game will then face the champion of the New England Regional championship game in one final game that will crown the best 8-10-year-old team in the Eastern Region.
Play begins on Friday, Aug. 4 and will conclude on Saturday, Aug. 12.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com