WILLIAMSPORT, PA—The dream summer for Henderson’s hometown heroes reached its conclusion Monday afternoon, as they were defeated by pre-tournament favorite Nolensville, Tennessee.
Henderson’s star pitcher Nolan Gifford was tabbed for the start, and he was impressive as usual. He gave up just two runs on two hits. Unfortunately, he was still out-dueled by Nolensville pitcher Lucas McCauley, who allowed just one run on two hits and maintained a perfect game into the fifth inning.
Nolensville controlled much of the game, holding a 2-0 lead heading into the fifth. The perfect game was broken up by lead off hitter Cruz Lester, who was promptly driven in by Gifford.
Trailing 2-1 in the penultimate inning, Henderson’s Arlie Daniel worked McCauley to a full count in a long, grueling at bat in front of the nervous Williamsport crowd. On a pitch that was nowhere near the plate, the unpaid Williamsport umpire took the game into his own hands, making an egregiously terrible strike three call that stranded Nolan Gifford at third. In this moment, what looked like a promising rally was killed. If ESPN did their win probability calculator for Little League games, I’m certain that moment would have been deemed as the fatal blow for Henderson’s chances.
Henderson’s title bid at Williamsport suffered an immediate setback in their opener last Wednesday. They ran into the buzzsaw that was Smithfield, R.I. ace Connor Curtis, who delivered a mind-boggling 15 strikeout performance in 5.1 innings of work.
Henderson recovered nicely the next two games, defeating New Albany, Ohio 13-2 via run rule in their second game. At this point they appeared to be a very viable threat to make a run to the US final if the cards fell their way with pitching match ups.
The next game was another solid performance, earring them a 7-1 victory over Fargo, North Dakota in a gutsy effort. After two impressive victories and a Nolan Gifford start on the mound looming, it looked like Henderson was in as good of a position as any group tasked with coming out of the losers bracket.
Unfortunately, the pitching match ups did not fall their way going further, as McCauley’s eventual dominance awaited them.
Regardless, it was an unforgettable summer for the boys from Henderson. They became just the second team from the Las Vegas metro area to reach the Little League World Series. For that matter, they are only the second team to ever make it to Williamsport from the state of Nevada.
They didn’t quite reach the heights the Mountain Ridge team of 2014 reached, but it was a fun couple weeks for the city either way. It was certainly a reminder of how quickly and passionately Vegas will get behind one of their own.
Nearly a decade removed from that Mountain Ridge team, we now have the hindsight of seeing where some of those kids ended up in the next phase of their baseball career and their lives in general.
That will be the thing I will take most from this run going forward. The names and stories of the players and their families that we were fortunate enough to learn. I hope, and fully expect, that we will be revisiting some of these names in five or so years as we examine the next crop of Las Vegas born MLB prospects.
And baseball aside, we’ve seen quite a few players from the Little League World Series make names for themselves in other walks of life. Guys like NASCAR’s Austin Dillon and former NFL MVP Brian Sipe played in Williamsport before finding their true path. Who knows what one of these kids could end up becoming?