BRISTOL, Conn. - Gloves flew into the air after the final out. The Taney Dragons jumped up and down, pumped their fists and formed a dog pile between the mound and home plate. The joy was justified. The 12- and 13-year-olds are going where no team from Philadelphia has gone before: to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.
The state champions from Center City captured the Mid-Atlantic Regional Little League championship Sunday with an 8-0 thumping of Newark (Del.) National at Breen Field. The Little League World Series begins Thursday.
"We asked them to give us two hours of the best baseball they've played in their lives and they did," Taney coach Alex Rice said.
Taney won the title with aggressive baserunning and mistake-free fielding. The Dragons gave themselves an early cushion with four first-inning runs, each manufactured on the base paths.
The final run of the inning demonstrated the scope of Taney's dominance. Zion Spearman danced off third base after a low-and-outside pitch to Kai Cummings. When Newark catcher Joseph Rinarelli tossed the ball back to pitcher A.J. Blanchard, Spearman bolted for home. He slid in just before the tag.
Newark National spent the two days before the game preparing for Mo'ne Davis, but it was of little use. The first-inning runs were all she needed. She pitched a shutout, allowing three hits. By the time Davis allowed Newark's first hit in the third inning, Taney already had a 6-0 lead. She struck out six batters in the game.
Davis will be the first American girl to play in Williamsport since 2004. She downplayed her personal accomplishment, but her pitching performance on national television showed that gender is no barrier.
"More girls should join boys' teams so it could be a tradition and it wouldn't be so special," she said.
A stout Taney defense sealed the win. Jared Sprague-Lott made several difficult plays at shortstop and Eli Simon caught two high fly balls in left field in the fourth inning. Taney did not commit an error in the game.
The game fittingly ended on a perfectly executed double play, then the celebration began.
Afterward, Taney's players said the win was about more than baseball. For one thing, it means new uniforms, no small matter to Taney's players. The players shouted in joy after the game in the Little League Recreation Center when they saw the new gear they will wear in Williamsport, emblazoned with the words "Mid-Atlantic" across the chest. It was another sign that they are champions.
The origins of Taney's players added meaning to the win. They nodded in unison when asked if the win meant more because they are the first team from Philadelphia to reach the Little League World Series. Many of the players murmured about the stereotypes related to inner-city kids and baseball.
"It means a lot," second baseman Jahli Hendricks said. "In the beginning, a lot of people were a little bit doubting us and criticizing us."
The stereotypes are now irrelevant. The bus to Williamsport leaves Monday morning.