After a dominant showing at the districts tournament, the Goodyear Little League 9- to 11-year-old All-Stars baseball team departed the state tournament with a 2-2 record, placing fifth among 13 teams.
Goodyear qualified for states, held in Flagstaff in mid-July, after rolling to five wins in six games to capture the District 2 Championship earlier this month.
“It was great,” head coach and league president Josh Guethle said. “We had great success on the field, but what you really look back at is the boys and the parents; they made lifelong friends.”
Goodyear was jettisoned from the state tournament in heartbreaking fashion. Hoping to stave off its decisive second loss in the double-elimination round, it was locked with Gilbert in a 2-2 tie heading into the home half of the sixth and final inning.
With two outs and the winning run on third base, a Gilbert batter poked a walk-off single through the right side of the infield to send Goodyear packing.
“Baseball,” Guethle humbly remarked, “is a game of inches.”
As agonizing a loss as it could have been, Goodyear had been on the other end of a walk-off win in its previous game. Chasing a 10-3 run in the fifth inning, it wondrously rallied to tie the game and score the winning run in its last at-bats.
“So, we walked them off, and then we got walked off,” Guethle said.
A game of inches, Guethle reiterated once more.
Despite exiting the tournament earlier than Goodyear preferred, there was increasing certainty throughout the last year that this All-Stars team was capable of embarking on a magical run to Flagstaff.
The better half of this team has been playing together since last year, when Guethle first assembled a travel team. He had them playing tournaments in the off-season months of the Little League season, gelling and becoming accustomed with one another before the hunt for a state title commenced.
“We’ve been working on this thing for a little while and this year we finally got to the state tournament, so it’s all paid off.”
Creating a nucleus on a travel team would likely give a Goodyear All-Stars team a competitive edge when it arrived at the state tournament.
“It’s huge, with the kids knowing each other, been playing together and knowing each other’s tendencies,” he said. “The gel and the team atmosphere is huge.”
In Flagstaff, Guethle was confident his Goodyear squad could hang with any team, even as the competition around them grew stronger.
“It was so evenly matched. There was no blowout game. It was anybody’s game at any given time. It just depended on chance, luck and the inches — did the ball roll your way or the other team’s way?”
Fortunately, this team is in line for another crack at a state title next summer, when it is bumped up to the older, 11- to 12-year-old bracket.
And not only will this All-Stars team gain from this run. The entire league, which Guethle has overseen the last four years, will also reap the benefits of one of its own teams being in the thick of a state tournament.
“The kids, they see that this team did that and now the next team behind us is going to try and beat that place. It sets the goalposts for other teams. All the league gets to see what we’re doing so everyone can aspire to be better and want to do better than we did.”