The top two teams in the regular season, the No. 1 Walden Eye Care Cubs and the No. 2 Lamberson and Malott Eye Center Yankees, met Tuesday evening on the lower diamond for the championship of the New Castle Little League Baseball Major League City Tournament.
Both teams had excellent starting pitching, but the Cubs broke away from a 1-1 tie to post a 6-1 victory over the Yankees to win the title.
The Cubs finished the season with a record of 13-3, while the Yankees ended 9-6.
“I couldn’t be more happy, excited, and thankful that the Little League season ended this way for our team,” Cubs Manager Tom Bell said after the game. “Our guys worked really hard for this, this is the third time in a row the Cubs have been in the championship game, and we were finally rewarded. Guys all up and down our lineup contributed to this win, which makes us coaches happy.”
Before the game, NCLL Treasurer Katie Nelson presented a card and check to New Castle High School senior Jackson Clapp as the recipient of the Danny Smeckens New Castle Little League Baseball Scholarship award.
This award had been announced at New Castle’s Senior Honors and Recognition Night on May 26.
Also announced before Tuesday’s contest were the Great Teammate awards, one for each of the six Major league teams in the League.
Receiving those awards were Cormac Stilwell of the New Castle #91 Masons Dodgers; John Lansinger of the Elks #484 White Sox; Brodey Brown of the Top Hat Two Pizza King Red Sox; Evan Blackburn of the Citizens State Bank Reds; Aiden Antle of the Yankees; and Kaden Stoffer of the Cubs.
The Cubs’ Carson Bell, who struck out 16 batters in his team’s semifinal win over the White Sox last Thursday, started again on the hill and yielded only a two-out walk to the Yankees’ Arrin Murray in the top of the first inning. Bell retired the other three batters on two groundouts and a strikeout.
Murray got the start on the mound for the Yankees and gave up a walk after nine pitches to Cubs leadoff hitter Steven Bond in the bottom of the first. Bond took second base on a passed ball.
After the next baseman popped up to the second baseman for the first out, Bell drove in Bond with a single to centerfield for a 1-0 Cubs advantage.
Bell stole second base and moved to third on a wild pitch, but Murray buckled down and fanned the next two batters on five and four pitches, respectively, to avoid further damage.
Bell yielded a two-out single to centerfield to the Yankees’ Aiden Antle in the top of the second inning, but retired the other three batters on two strikeouts and a 4-3 groundout.
The Cubs’ Jaxton Lee had a nice at-bat leading off the last of the second, falling behind 0-2 and fouling off the next two pitches before drawing four straight balls and a walk.
Lee went to second base on a wild pitch and stole third base, but it went for naught as Murray whiffed the next three batters to end the inning.
The Yankees tied the game in the top of the third inning. After Bell struck out the leadoff batter on four pitches, an error on Kiptyn Boatright’s grounder enabled the hustling Boatright to get all the way to third base on the play.
Boatright scored on a single to centerfield by Jaxon Grubbs to deadlock the contest 1-1. Grubbs stole second base, Murray walked on five pitches, and Grubbs and Murray both moved up a base on a wild pitch, putting both in scoring position with just one away.
But Bell bore down and fanned the next two batters on four and six pitches, respectively, as the Yankees left the go-ahead runs in scoring position.
The Cubs took the lead for good in the bottom of the third inning. Bond led off by reaching base after an error on his ground ball, but Carson Bane’s fielder’s choice grounded forced out Bond at second base.
Bell then stepped to the plate and belted a 0-1 Murray pitch over the centerfield fence for a two-run homer and 3-1 Cubs lead. It was a no-doubter once it left the bat.
“I take the blame for calling that pitch,” Yankees Manager Mark Boatright Jr. remarked after the game. “Arrin threw it, it hung in the air a little, and Bell hit it over the fence. The Cubs have played well all season, and their three Bs, Bond, Bane, and Bell, have led them all year. Hats off to them; they’re a good team.”
Murray brushed that off and got the next two batters to ground out to the first baseman to end the inning.
Bell struck out the side in the top of the fourth inning on a total of just 10 pitches.
Lee led off the last of the fourth by beating out an infield hit before Murray whiffed the next Cubs batter for the first out.
Then a strange sequence of events took place. Tryntin Keihn stepped to the plate, and both he and Lee were safe on Keihn’s fielder’s choice grounder.
But then the umpires huddled, ruled that Keihn had batted out of turn, and called him out. Lee had to return to first base with two away.
However, Keihn returned to the plate again for another at-bat, and Murray struck him out on three pitches to end the inning.
In the top of the fifth inning, Boatright laced a double to centerfield, sandwiched between a pair of Bell strikeouts, and Boatright took third on an error on the play.
But Boatright didn’t score as Bell induced the fourth batter in the frame to ground out 6-3 to end the half-inning.
The Cubs scored their final three runs off Yankee relief pitching in the bottom of the fifth. Murray retired the first batter he faced on a 6-3 groundout and left the mound after hurling 87 pitches.
Alex Middleton came to the hill for the Yankees, and Bane singled to centerfield on a 2-2 pitch. Bell was issued an intentional walk, and both Bane and Bell moved into scoring position on a passed ball. Rees Schetgen walked on a full-count pitch to load the sacks.
Middleton plunked Gavin Hileman on a 2-1 pitch, forcing Bane across the plate, and Grubbs came in to pitch for the Yankees with the bags still juiced.
Lee popped up, the fielder dropped the ball, and Bell crossed the plate. The infield-fly rule applied, Lee was out, but Bell’s run still counted.
With two away, Kaden Stoffer beat out an infield hit and Schetgen crossed the plate, boosting the Cubs’ lead to 6-1. Grubbs whiffed the next batter on three pitches to end the inning.
In the top of the sixth inning, leadoff batter Middleton reached base on a fielding error before Bell fanned the next batter on three pitches for his 12th strikeout of the game.
“Carson is one of the hardest-working kids in the League,” Manager Tom Bell said of his son. “He has a real passion for the game, and I expect him to play baseball for a long time.”
Bell left the hill after tossing 87 pitches, and Bane came to the mound for the Cubs to finish the deal.
Bane did so by whiffing the first batter he faced on five pitches, and induced the batter after that to ground out 1-3, ending the game at 7:54 p.m. after 1:34 of playing time.
After the game, the Yankees received runner-up medallions and the Cubs received champion medallions plus rings for winning both the regular season and city tournament titles.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Manager Boatright added. “We were a young team this season, no one expected us to be here, and we improved a lot. With what we have returning next year, I’m already excited about next season.”
Manager Bell is one of the coaches of the New Castle 12U All-Star Team that will begin tournament play a little later this summer.
“Ever since they were eight, the goal for our guys has been to get to South Williamsport (site of Little League World Series),” Manager Bell added. “We have a good team, plan to practice twice a day, and see how far we can get.”