Taney keeps a rollin'

Posted: August 19, 2014

 SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - It will be Mo'ne come Wednesday.

Last night, the Taney Dragons were so much more than just her.

Mo'ne Davis is the ace and the star, yes, the most unusual of the unusual - a dozen urban kids playing the best of the 'burbs.

But Taney didn't use her to dig out of a three-run hole with two runs in the fifth and two more in the bottom of the sixth to beat a tough Texas team, 7-6, in the second round of the Little League World Series.

Bespectacled backup Tai Shanahan, playing in place of starting shortstop Jack Rice, hit a high chopper to normally sure-handed Texas shortstop Matt Adams, who threw high and wide to first base.

That allowed Zion Spearman to race home from third with the winning run, delighting most of the 32,148 at Lamade Stadium. It put Taney, the Mid-Atlantic champion, up against a slick Las Vegas team that represents the West, Wednesday night.

"We're a solid team. Anybody can come through at any time," said crafty catcher Scott Bandura, whose bunt single began the final frame.

They might have been down three runs down with six outs to go, staring the losers' bracket in the face, but they didn't show it.

"There was no one who didn't think we were coming back," said manager Alex Rice.

It's starting to feel like fate has favored these Philly kids.

Is destiny smiling upon them?

"Yes," said Spearman, with a huge smile.

"I read somewhere that luck is a combination of opportunity meeting preparation," said cerebral outfielder Kai Cummings.

Sometimes, luck and fate collide.

After all, so much had gone so bad so quickly.

Jack Rice, Alex's son, was knocked from the game when a high tag during a rundown bloodied his mouth and dizzied his head. (Rice is OK.) It also prematurely ended the inning. The teams scratched back and forth before Texas got to starter Jared Sprague-Lott with a three-run homer that gave Texas a 5-3 lead. He pitched because Little League rules kept Davis unavailable after her second straight shutout Friday. She started at third, replaced Jack at shortstop and eventually played first base, too.

That's Little League.

Her bloop RBI single in the first started the scoring, but, for a change, she otherwise was seen and not heard from. Big Joe Richardson and Erik Lipson, a lefty who is all braces and smiles, followed Sprague-Lott on the mound.

Sprague-Lott had an RBI single, and second baseman Jahli Hendricks doubled and scored twice, and Bandura had two hits. Spearman had the two big hits, though: an RBI double in the fifth and a two-out, RBI triple in the sixth that scooted to the left-centerfield wall and scored Bandura, who was shocked to see Rice waving him in.

"I started running as fast as I ever have," Bandura said.

They have hustled their way into the hearts of America.

Behind Mo'ne, they cruised to a 4-0 win over Tennessee in front of 19,000 spectators. Among them sat 78-year-old Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, the only female Negro Leagues pitcher, who afterward met with Mo'ne, the first of the 18 girls to win a game at the Little League World Series - and, according to LLWS officals, the first black girl to play here.

It wasn't just her Friday, either.

Sprague-Lott hit a three-run homer in his first Little League World Series at-bat. Hendricks has been smooth at second base. Davis can throw 70, but so can Sprague-Lott and Big Joe. They are packed with personality.

More than 100 people ignored the ongoing international bracket game to watch Taney take batting practice . . . in the batting cages.

About 20,000 early arrivers gave Taney a standing ovation when they took the field . . . for pregame infield-outfield practice.

Nothing bothers them.

They played Friday in front of Gov. Tom Corbett. They had to spend Friday night in their parents' hotel rooms after their dorm was flooded.

No biggie.

They can be shaken, sure. Nearly 40,000 people watched them under the lights last night; it was on national television.

"That was kind of nerve-wracking," said Cummings, who knows the crowd was mostly there for them. "It's hard to let them down."

And, so, they don't play perfectly, but they play hard, and they have fun, and they fear no one - not even potent Vegas, baby.

"Unless a guy's blowing 80, there's nobody who can stop us," Bandura said. "I think Mo'ne will quiet their bats, if she has her best game."

There's That Girl again, the It Girl of the summer, receiving tweets from superstars, being interviewed by networks, again in the spotlight in 2 more days.

"She's having a blast," Alex Rice said.

So is the rest of the country.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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