Summer baseball ended Sunday for the El Segundo Little League team. Players will be headed home to begin classes. Gloves, bats and cleats will be put away. Chores, such as taking out the trash or walking the dog, will resume.
Except what a tale they will get to share after experiencing the journey of a lifetime.
The 12 players from a close-knit beach community are world champions after defeating Curaçao 6-5 in a wild championship game of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., when Louis Lappe hit a walk-off home run to left field in the bottom of the sixth, his fifth of the tournament. El Segundo had to win five consecutive elimination games to become the first team from California to capture the world title since Huntington Beach Ocean View in 2011. It is the eighth LLWS title won by a California Little League team.
With spectators filling the outfield berms at Howard J. Lamade Stadium and El Segundo fans supporting with watch parties at home, El Segundo put on another impressive hitting exhibition. Lucas Keldorf delivered a two-run double in the first inning and Jaxon Kalish had a two-run single in the third. Crew O’Connor’s first hit of the tournament was an RBI single in the fourth for a 5-1 lead.
But Curaçao tied the game 5-5 in the top of the fifth on a dramatic grand slam to right field from Nasir El-Ossais off Max Baker with two outs. Baker was forced to enter the game after Kalish left the mound while complaining of elbow soreness.
With momentum changing in favor of Curaçao, El Segundo brought in closer Brody Brooks to pitch the sixth trying to provide a emotional lift. He delivered with a scoreless inning. Up came Lappe, who took the first pitch for a ball. He sent the second pitch far over the left-field wall to end the game, tossing up his bat as he saw the ball leave the field.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Lappe said in a TV interview.
El Segundo’s top two hitters, Brooks and Lappe, left an indelible impression as being future stars. Brooks, a shortstop, had a single Sunday and finished the tournament with 12 hits in 16 at-bats, three home runs and tied the World Series record by scoring 13 runs. Lappe had 10 hits in 18 at-bats. Both also were standout pitchers.
How did El Segundo win it all?
Pitching depth and strong defense were key, along with hitting eight home runs.
Half of the 12 players pitched in the tournament. While Lappe was known as the ace, Brooks, Declan McRoberts, Parks, Kalish and Baker all provided support. And defensively, there was great fielding in the outfield, but no one was better than Keldorf at the catcher position. In a tournament where wild pitches and passed balls were common, Keldorf had one passed ball in six games.
Among the memorable moments over two weeks of games in Williamsport, who’s going to forget Baker’s hat constantly falling off after throwing a fastball on the mound? People started to think that he was tipping off his pitches. Except the hat also fell off when he was running to catch fly balls in the outfield.
There was expressions of ecstasy on the face of Lappe each time he hit one of his five home runs. It was evidence of pure joy from a 12-year-old loving baseball and never taking for granted that he could hit a ball over the fence.
And there was the awe of seeing Brooks getting hit after hit, showing his speed running around the bases and displaying the power of his arm throwing frozen ropes to first base on ground balls from his shortstop position.
Manager Danny Boehle, a St. Bernard High grad who is the younger brother of successful Loyola volleyball coach Michael Boehle, appeared to be the perfect manager for this group. Even though his son, Quinn, was on the team, Boehle treated everyone as part of his family. He’d go to the mound during timeouts and leave by saying, “Love you.”
“To be out here with my son and all my adopted sons, there’s nothing better in the world,” he said.
The summer has ended for El Segundo players. They’ll be returning to school, but there’s still more fun ahead. A parade is scheduled for Sept. 10 down Main Street in El Segundo. More TV and radio interviews are sure to come. Trips to Disneyland, Dodger Stadium and Lakers headquarters in El Segundo are possible. Boehle would be certainly willing to accept an invitation to visit the White House, too.
Lappe, talking about the World Series earlier in the week, said, “There’s no other feeling like it.”
The team was receiving video messages this week from the Dodgers and Lakers and others with ties to its city, such as Hall of Famer George Brett and major leaguer Lars Nootbaar. The players come home as world champs.
“How sweet it is,” Boehle said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.