Bryce Sherman and his Riverside Little League 12-Under all-star baseball teammates tried to quickly forget their sub-state championship game loss to Hinsdale Monday in Elgin.
They enjoyed a lifetime of memories getting there.
The great ride was climaxed by only the third District 9 championship by the Riverside Majors 12s over the last 66 years. The breathtaking, remarkable come-from-behind 12-11 seven-inning victory over Western Springs in the winner-take-all championship game was July 11 at Brookfield’s Kiwanis Park in front of an overflow crowd.
“I’ve never been in a game like that. I’ll remember that game for the rest of the life. I’ll be telling that to my kids, my grandchildren,” Sherman said.
“Even when we were in tough positions, [we learned] just keep on trying to fight, keep on trying to come back and win games. And we did that a couple of times and that’s why we were successful.”
Team members were Foster Bukowski, Shane Haefner, George Kirsch, Tommy Martin, Dean Mauban, Jack Rooney, Sherman, Mateo Sikora, Quinn Simmons, Gavin Sweetser, Brady Wahl and Henry Zalewski. The manager was Ryan Sherman with coaches Adam Haefner and Jon Kirsch.
Riverside lost the sub-state championship game 10-0 in five innings on July 17.
“We told them to keep their heads up. A very fun two weeks. We all had a blast. Definitely a positive experience,” Ryan Sherman said. “The main thing is we’ve had these kids since they were 7 years old and this was just the culmination of all of the hard work we put in. These guys are a really close knit group.”
Riverside was limited on July 17 to singles by Sweetser and Sherman in the first and second innings, respectively. Bukowski was hit by a pitch to lead off the third.
Simmons (first 2 innings) and Sweetser (3 innings) handled the pitching duties. Hinsdale pitcher Dylan Phelan struck out 12 in a complete-game effort.
“It’s great to feel that we won our district and we made it all the way here. It just sucks that it has to end here and we can’t keep moving forward,” Sweetser said.
Perennial power Hinsdale was the visitor and had a six-run first, capped by a three-run homer.
“We just told the kids you play in these tournaments and at some point, you’re going to run into a buzz saw. They jumped on us early and their pitcher was absolutely lights out,” Ryan Sherman said.
Riverside reached the sub-state final by going 2-1 in round-robin play. Riverside lost to Hinsdale 10-0 on July 16, but the teams already had qualified for the final after winning their first two games. On July 15, Riverside beat Elgin 12-2 in five innings and Clear Ridge 7-5 with a five-run fifth after trailing 5-2.
A remarkable effort against another perennial power, Western Springs, earned the district title. After three victories, Riverside lost to Western Springs 7-1 earlier July 11 to force a championship rematch in the double-elimination format.
Riverside trailed 11-10 entering the bottom of the seventh. Kirsch reached on an error and scored to tie the game. Simmons delivered the game-winning, walk-off single after Sweetser, who already hit two homers, and Sherman were intentionally walked to load the bases.
“It was the team that really helped me get into that,” Simmons said. “They intentionally walked Gavin. Anybody would have. … Bryce, the same thing. He probably would have hit a shot.
“It was 2 and 2 and then I just hit it. it felt great. And then I threw up my helmet and [Kirsch] caught it.”
Riverside was winning 7-4 entering the sixth and was one out from the title, but a premature celebration after an apparent game-ending strikeout was instead a dropped third strike and the game continued. Western Springs rallied and eventually hit a grand slam to take the lead 10-7.
In the bottom half, Sweetser led off with a home run and Mauban hit a game-tying double but was left stranded on third with no outs.
When Riverside finally won, players and fans hesitated before unleashing some postgame pandemonium.
“The most ridiculous Little League game of all time. Literally, I’ve tried to tell the story 20 times. It’s one of those games where no team deserved to lose and people were saying there were over 300 fans,” Ryan Sherman said.
“We were celebrating. We thought we had it [at 7-4] and then to have to come back from the grand slam, the group is just so resilient.”
So was Simmons. Battling sickness, Simmons missed pre-game warmups but was insistent on playing. Then he excelled as Riverside’s starting pitcher.
“When we took it into extras and there was a bunch of people lining the sides, it was just a team thing,” Simmons said. “When Gavin hit that home run, everyone got back into the game. It was really fun.”