Kennett, Unionville players ready to battle for Senior Little League World Series title
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
CHADDS FORD — With about a ten-hour bus ride ahead of them and maybe a permanent place in local sports history in front of them, the KAU Kings Under-16 baseball team started its journey north to Bangor, Maine, early Friday morning the final leg of what seems like an improbable journey to the Senior Little League World Series.
Parents, friends and various well-wishers gathered in the parking lot of the Painters’ Crossing Chopping Center, early Friday to give the first Pennsylvania team to reach the series since 1999 a proper send off.
This last trip will cap what has been an amazing journey and season.
“We set the goal back during workouts in December, to make the state playoffs,” said Todd Duerr, the team’s manager. “When we won it (the state title) that kind of topped everything.”
Well until the Kings, made up of players from the Kennett and Unionville school districts, went out and stormed through the regional championships, winning four straight games, in New Jersey and now find themselves taking on the top five other Senior teams in the U.S. plus four of the top international teams from Latin America, Europe, Asia and Canada.
This close-knit group of players — some of whom have been playing together since they were as young as six — has fought through adversity and grown even closer. The death of the mother of Tucker Reese during the sectional tournament deepened the bond of the team and may have changed the team’s approach.
“We’ve matured,” said Alex Pechin, a righty pitcher, who has teamed up with Andrew Jones and Joe Zirolli to give the Kings’ a deep starting rotation. “I think on top of being great friends, we’ve become great teammates.”
Still, although it’s been a magical ride so far, it can be hard for the players to believe it is really happening.
“It’s surreal,” said Drew Jarmuz, an outfielder whose play in the field and big bat — he hit the lone homer in the regionals — has paced an opportunistic offense. “We didn’t think we’d be here.”
But the Kings are going to the World Series.
They’ll kick off pool (KAU is in Pool B) play Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. against Northside Little League of Laredo, Texas, and then come right back Monday morning to battle Emilia, Italy at 10 a.m. Tuesday, they take on Clear Ridge, Ill. in a 1 p.m. start. Wednesday, they battle Chitre, Herrera, Panama in an 8 p.m. start, to complete pool play.
The top two teams in each of two pools advance to the single-elimination semifinals on Aug. 16, the second place Pool B team will face the top Pool A team at 11:30 a.m., while the first-place Pool B team will play the second place Pool A team in a 2:30 p.m. start. The winners of both games will meet in the championship game on Aug. 17, to be aired live on ESPNU at 2 p.m.
The Kings will be jumping in with a tough game to start the Series, with Northside, which knocked off perennial national power (and 2009 champion) West University of Houston in the U.S. West Regional title game. Northside was a perfect 3-0 in the regional and outscored its opponents 17-1. But KAU was an equally impressive 4-0 in the regionals and outscored its opponents 34-14.
One concern, noted by Duerr, the international teams wrapped up their regional play weeks earlier to allow enough time to get visas for their players. While they may have some game rust after not playing for a couple of weeks, the Italian and Panamanian teams will have a rested pitching staff.