HAMILTON — They came so close. The Mount Vernon 12-year-old Little League All-Stars pushed themselves to the brink of a state title, only to see it slip away when the ball stopped bouncing their way in Hamilton.
Mount Vernon fell behind, 11-0, going on to lose the second game on Championship Sunday to Hamilton West Side, 12-5. But it was what they had done all week — and in Game 1 earlier in the day — that personified the All-Stars’ road through the state tournament.
“I’m extremely proud of this group,” said Mount Vernon head coach Steve Franko. “They never quit all week. We’ve been down and come back so many times. … We came back from 11 runs against Wheelersburg. Came back in our first game (today). I’m so proud of them.”
Coming out of the losers’ bracket, Mount Vernon had to beat the previously unbeaten Hamilton West Siders twice to win the state tournament. Mount Vernon got the job done in Game 1, coming back from behind twice to claim a 13-12 victory and force Game 2.
It wasn’t anything new for Mount Vernon. The team had already come back from deficits of five or more runs three times this past week, winning all three.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Franko. “It’s what we told them all year. You never quit, you play the game and see what happens. It worked every time until the last game.”
“They never quit,” District 9 administrator Roger Fox said after the game. “They kept coming back and gave us something we’ll remember for years to come.”
In Game 1, Mount Vernon fell behind again, 4-0, in the first inning. But the All-Stars responded immediately, tying the game at 4 in the bottom of the first. Jeffrey Rucker and Nate Orr both reached on errors — uncharacteristic for the normally sure-handed Hamilton. Rucker then scored on a single by Marcus Shellenbarger. Ashton Spurgeon tied the game with a three-run home run over the fence in left centerfield.
Mount Vernon then took the lead in the second when Kaden Daniels (4-for-6 in both games) smacked a solo homer that cleared the wall behind left field - the wall resembled Fenway Park’s Green Monster and appears proportionately as tall - to make the game 5-4. Mount Vernon’s lead opened up when Rucker, Orr and Dustin Hess all scored later in the inning.