Moments after winning the Illinois Little League 8-10 age division state title, Bradley-Bourbonnais manager Wes Andrews surveyed the crowd that showed up in full force on Thursday night at Slater Field in Bourbonnais.
The big crowd witnessed B-B’s 9-4 come-from-behind victory over Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West to take the 8-10 Little League state championship. B-B is one of two area youth leagues that has remained with the Little League organization.
Andrews couldn’t help from smiling, happy not only for what his team that has played together since early June just accomplished, but also for the support from the community.
“That is why we play Little League is because of this,” he said. “The community comes out for it, they support it.
“That’s why we play Little League here, there’s no experience like it.”
B-B won its first state championship at the 8-10 age level and went 4-0 in the eight-team state portion of tourney play.
“It feels amazing,” said Liam Martin, who played shortstop and got the save, pitching the final two innings.
After a half inning Jackie Robinson West was in a position to force another game on Friday in the double-elimination format, plating three runs on five straight hits for a 3-0 advantage. But B-B starter Nick Pignatiello settled down, getting a ground out and two strikeouts to avert further damage.
B-B answered with two runs in its half of the first on two walks, a hit batter and some wildness from JRW starter Ahmad Dunbar.
“The kids were incredibly resilient,” Andrews said. “We got down tonight early. They battled back. We always preach, ‘Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low, stay calm.’ And they did that after they put three runs on us in the first.”
JRW went up 4-2 on an RBI-double from Rashard Battie in the second inning before B-B’s Gaige Brown walked and eventually scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-3.
B-B plated two more runs in the third inning to take a 5-4 lead. After Martin and Noah Drake walked to open the inning, Grady Trammel slapped a single to right to drive in the first run.
Drake scored on another wild pitch for the lead.
“We never get down, we never quit,” Pignatiello said.
“We were able to battle back,” Andrews said. “I think the coaches and parents are more nervous than these kids.”
Pignatiello didn’t allow another baserunner, retiring the final six batters he faced. He struck out five in four innings of work.
“He did exactly what we needed out of him,” Andrews said. “Our ace is the big guy, Liam Martin. He’s been our leader the whole run. We get the game to him in the fifth, and we have no doubt once we get there that he’s going to close it out. And he did it again tonight.”
B-B added four insurance runs in the fourth inning. Trammel got the big hit again, a two-run single. He finished the night 2-for-3 with four RBIs.
“I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and see what I could do with it,” Trammel said.
“Grady was clutch,” Andrews said. “I told Grady before the game, ‘I’ve got a feeling you’re going to have a heck of a game, and sure enough he got up there and stuck the ball for us. Heck of a player.”
Battie had two hits to pace JRW, who out-hit B-B 7-3.
“When you consider we lost our second game and then we won three consecutive games after that to get to the championship, we definitely appreciate the team’s effort,” said JRW assistant coach Antjuan Mitchell.
JRW’s only losses in summer tournament play was to Bradley-Bourbonnais.
“They play very disciplined ball,” Mitchell said of B-B. “Their outfielders were hitting cutoffs on balls hit to the outfield. They had strong pitching, didn’t walk a lot of batters, and that made a big difference in the game, a huge difference.”