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Experience overshadows outcome for Hollidaysburg team

WILLIAMSPORT — Hollidaysburg arrived at the Little League World Series hoping to prove it belonged and eager to represent itself, Blair County and Pennsylvania well on the grandest stage of youth sports on the planet.

And except for one inning Thursday night, Hollidaysburg acquitted itself quite nicely.

Before 18,352 at storied Lamade Stadium, not to mention an ESPN2 audience, the local entry found itself tied 2-2 entering the fifth inning before the bats from Pearland, Texas came alive and hung a six-spot to take a 8-2 lead.

It created a deficit from which Hollidaysburg did not recover in a 8-3 defeat.

Though disappointed, Hollidaysburg manager Jim McGough was not discouraged.

“We had one inning that got away from us,” he said. “Overall, it’s something we’ll learn from. We talk a lot about how we respond. We’ll use this as a learning moment.”

McGough said the pre-tournament focus centered around handling the atmosphere and the inevitable jitters.

“I thought we were ready for the moment,” he said. “We knew we had a ton of support from back home and in the state. The kids were excited about. Having an atmosphere like we had tonight, you’re going to have some butterflies, but I thought they handled it and enjoyed it.”

Hollidaysburg proved that as it took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and starting pitcher Brody Dull retired the first six batters he faced.

Texas is a traditional Little League power — all of its players looked bigger than Hollidaysburg’s (the same is true with Hawaii, another juggernaut) — and yet the boys from the ‘Burg were hanging tough.

Hollidaysburg did not commit an error, and though it mishandled a couple of situations in the fateful fifth inning, it made several excellent defensive plays.

Catcher Braden Hatch threw out a batter trying to take second. In addition to going 3-for-3, second baseman Beau Rabel showed his range. Shortstop Ty McGough completed an early double play with a rocket throw and was twice on the receiving end of tag plays at second.

“We turned a double play,” McGough said. “You saw the excitement from the crowd. You heard it.”

In the bottom of the fifth, Hollidaysburg’s Caleb Detrick ripped a shot at Texas second baseman Jackson Wolfe, who snagged it impressively on the short hop and completed a double play.

“Southwest made some plays when they needed to, and we weren’t able to fight back,” McGough said.

Hollidaysburg did leave runners on second and third in the first inning, missing a chance to go up 3-0 or even 4-0, and the locals wound up striking out 10 times.

“Their pitchers threw great,” McGough said. “I don’t think it’s anything we haven’t seen before. We tried to put the barrel on the ball … and they made some nice plays. But hats off to them for the pitching they brought to the table.”

McGough accentuated the positive — Rabel going 3-for-3 and Hollidaysburg using three pitchers, including Chase Link, who struck out three in 1.2 innings.

McGough said he would review each inning and turn the game into a teaching moment.

“We pride ourselves on defense, and we had a couple that got away from us,” he said. “Overall, it’s something we’ll learn from, and we’ll see them grow from here.”

Hollidaysburg will get another chance in this double-elimination tourney, matching up with Massachusetts at 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2).

And while McGough said “it wasn’t our night,” he also knows it was.

The opportunity and atmosphere here are beyond words. So was the thunderous support Hollidaysburg received.

“First and foremost, just the atmosphere is something the kids on both these teams will remember forever — the cheering, the loudness,” McGough said. “That experience is something we’ll always remember.”

Way more than the final score.

Rudel can be reached at 814-946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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