SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - After playing more than 50 games over the last four months - losing just six in the process - the Post Falls Little League baseball team finally showed some wear and tear Saturday in the championship game of the Northwest Regional.
The starting pitcher for Post Falls struggled to find the strike zone early against a patient team from Gresham, Ore., the meat of Post Falls' batting order couldn't come through when the score was still close, and manager Dusty Pfennigs even second guessed his decision to leave Quin Bennett on the mound despite his ineffectiveness.
Throw in a batch of nerves that never seemed to wane during the nationally-televised game and Post Falls couldn't keep up with Oregon in the 8-4 loss on another scorching afternoon at Al Houghton Stadium.
"I just think we came out flat and just a little bit nervous," Pfennigs said. "I don't think we ever really came out of our nervousness."
No team from Idaho has reached the Little League World Series since Boise advanced in 1999.
The first inning sized up the game in a nutshell.
Oregon caught a break in the top of the inning after Bennett hit a slow roller back to the mound. Oregon pitcher Hunter Hemenway threw the ball away and it rolled up the first base line, allowing Shilo Morgan to score from second. The second base umpire, however, ruled the play dead because Bennett had fouled the ball off his foot while still in the batter’s box.
Bennett lined the next pitch off the glove of Oregon left fielder Christian Turner, but Morgan had gone back to second base to tag up and was unable to score on the double. Post Falls clean-up hitter Jake Pfennigs then struck out looking and Kodie Kolden grounded to short to end the threat.
“When we get guys on base like that, we have to take advantage,” Dusty Pfennigs said. “That would have been a big momentum swing for us.”
Instead, Oregon came back with three runs in the bottom of the first to take a 3-0 lead.
The first two batters for Oregon walked and Greg Mehlhaff then hit a soft liner up middle that just eluded the glove of Kolden at shortstop, loading the bases with no outs. Oregon scored a run on a fielder’s choice, another on a passed ball and a third on a ground out.
Post Falls got a run back in the second when left fielder Sam Schulze, the No. 8 hitter, slammed just the second homer of the Northwest Regionals, a line drive over the fence in left-center field.
But Oregon answered with three more runs in the bottom of the second and two in the third to take an 8-1 lead.
“I still had a lot of confidence in our boys because we played a lot of games this year where we did come from behind and pull it out in the last couple innings,” Dusty Pfennigs said. “We just kind of waited for it to happen.”
Post Falls put together a rally in the fifth, scoring a run on an error, another on a double by Pfennigs and a third on a run-scoring groundout by Kolden to cut the deficit to 8-4.
That was as close as Post Falls came, leaving the team a win short of advancing.
“You have to tip your hats off to Oregon,” Dusty Pfennigs said. “They made the plays when you had to make the plays.”
And with that, Pfennigs finally took time to reflect on a season that began with workouts in December, the start of travel ball and regular season games in April and concluded with this summer’s magical run that brought them to San Bernardino.
“What a journey,” he said.
A trip that will likely be remembered for a lifetime.
Due to a Little League rule that prohibits players from the losing team to speak with the media, Post Falls players were unavailable for comment.