Rain, unpredictable field conditions, ill players and coaches and a first-round loss were no match for the Litchfield Park Little League team.
After assembling an all-star team from the six teams within the league, Litchfield Park was ready to represent in a run for the district and state titles.
Geared up for the first game, head coach Michael Butterfield admitted to it being an off day for the entire roster, resulting in its first loss.
However, the group of 11-year-olds never looked back, finishing with a record of 9-1.
“I was 100% confident, and I told the boys after that first game, ‘Boys, you lost. We didn’t hit the ball. We didn’t play well. That team, they’re not better than you, they just beat you today,’” Butterfield said.
“But I had all the confidence in the world that we were going to come all the way back through it and win district because I know that those boys could run off four games in a row, real quick, because we have the pitching talent, the players, everything. And they did it.”
After a big district win, it was off to the state playoffs where Litchfield Park made history by defeating Anthem’s High Desert Little League 10-0 and winning the title.
During the championship game, Butterfield said there were multiple standouts but admitted it was their pitcher who dominated on the diamond.
“The highlight of the game would have been our starting pitcher Mikey Stortz shutting it down, dominating, which was pretty impressive considering the week before that he was sick as a dog and couldn’t do anything. But he came out and he was our ace pitcher that day,” Butterfield said.
Aside from the shutout Stortz threw in the championship game, it was the offense that proved to be the difference throughout the tournament, as Litchfield Park won every game by 10 or more runs in the state playoffs and only allowing seven.
Offensive standouts, according to Butterfield, were Peyton Burgess, who hit his first home run and led the team with 21 hits, Chase Valdez who Butterfield referred to as an “offensive juggernaut” with a team high of 31 RBIs, and Ethan Butterfield, who was on base 85% of the time he got an at bat, leading the team in walks, runs, singles and batting average.
“Everybody on the team just played great the whole week,” Butterfield said. “That last game I was a little under the weather, so it was a little hard and it rained a lot, so we were doing a lot of work on the fields. We weren’t even sure if we were going to get the game in, but the baseball gods smiled on us, and it stopped raining and we were able to play.”
While the defense and the offense were exceptional throughout the tournament, Butterfield said it was the comraderie and the team’s commitment to each other that made the group so special.
“No egos. Everybody bought into being team players,” he said. “One of the first things I asked the boys during the first practice was to know the type of player you are. Know the type of hitter you are. Know if you’re a kid that hits singles. If you’re a kid that hits it over the fence, great, but the kid who hits singles or the kid that comes in and gets a walk is just as important as anybody else on this team. We just learned quickly how to be successful as a team.”
With 20 years of coaching experience under his belt, Butterfield said this year’s Little League team will forever hold a special place in his heart.
“This is probably one of the best moments for sure, because it involves my son and his friends. I’ve known these kids since they were 3 and 4 years old, and I’ve been around their families. All of us are just one big family,” he said.
As the season came to a victorious end for the Litchfield Park Little League, the question remains as to what happens to this team of all-stars.
Lucky for Butterfield, none of the athletes on the roster will age out and all will come together for another run at the title.
“I’m very hopeful that all of them will return and come back and play. And hopefully we’ll be able to make a similar run that we did this year, and maybe the kids will get to play in August on ESPN at Western regionals,” he said.
Now ready for vacation with his family that they postponed until after the tournament, Butterfield said he’s grateful for the 13 athletes who gave him a coaching experience he won’t forget.
“It was just an amazing experience. I am so happy for all the boys to have this memory for the rest of their lives and get to look back and say, ‘I was a state champion,’” Butterfield said.