Taney wins, one step from Williamsport

Zion Spearman, is all smiles as he runs down the thrid-base line toward his teammates after tying the score 3-3. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Zion Spearman, is all smiles as he runs down the thrid-base line toward his teammates after tying the score 3-3. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Posted: August 10, 2014

BRISTOL, CONN. - The stage is set. The Taney Dragons, the upstarts from Center City who have advanced further than any other Little League team ever from Philadelphia, will play Newark National (Del.) - a power that appeared in the Little League World Series in 2013 - in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Little League final Sunday at 6 p.m. It will be televised on ESPN2.

Both teams won their regional semifinals Friday. Taney rallied to defeat Colonie (N.Y.), 6-5, in the morning, and Newark National sent Toms River home, 4-3, in the afternoon. The two teams played in pool play last Sunday. Taney won, 8-4.

Taney's season looked perilously close to ending Friday. The Dragons struggled offensively and defensively for three innings before Zion Spearman tied the game, 3-3, in the bottom of the fourth inning with one swing of the bat.

He wasted little time running the bases after he launched the game-tying, three-run home run over the center field fence. He sprinted to home plate, where he yelled "Let's go!" before being mobbed by his teammates.

"We needed something; that was it," Taney coach Alex Rice said.

Taney couldn't muster anything early in the game. The Dragons' first six batters were retired in order. Colonie wasn't having the same problem.

Nine Colonie runners reached base against Jared Sprague-Lott in the first three innings, but he held them at bay and only two scored. Colonie tacked on another run in the fourth inning, and Taney looked to be in trouble.

But then came Spearman's home run, which landed deep beyond the outfield fence. There was no doubt about whether it would stay in the yard.

Taney completed the comeback in the fifth inning by scoring three more runs. Sprague-Lott, who said he wasn't at his best on the mound, made up for it with his bat, breaking the tie in the fifth inning with a bloop, two-run single to right field.

Spearman was excited, but not in awe of his home run. For him, it was just like playing at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in Philadelphia on 17th and Fitzwater. There, he has hit two balls onto the roof beyond the outfield fence. They are still his favorite home runs, even after Friday's heroics.

Spearman wears the number 44 for his favorite "old-time" baseball player, Hank Aaron.

Like Aaron, Spearman wasn't fazed by a big moment when he stepped up to the plate.

"I was thinking of it just as another at-bat and to take my time and wait for my pitch," Spearman said.

Colonie was quieted until the sixth. Taney's Eric Lipson struck out five batters in the fourth and fifth innings, giving up one run. Taney's Mo'ne Davis was on for the save, but gave up a two-run home run to Jakob Lemperle with two outs to make things interesting.

When she recorded the final out, Taney celebrated briefly, but then it was back to business. Taney's players sat in the stands at Newark's game in the afternoon, cheering for a championship that would be a rematch of a game they won with ease.

Without Spearman's home run, they might not be in such a position. After Taney won, Spearman was given his home run ball with the date and game details written on the ball. He said he planned to give the ball away.

"I don't keep a lot of home run balls," Spearman said.

His coach interjected.

"That one," Rice said. "You might want to keep."


mcohen@phillynews.com

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