Players on the Woods-Shores Little League celebrate on the mound after winning the Great Lakes Regional championship.
August 15, 2013Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores Little Leaguer Tommy Maxey walked into the postgame interview room Thursday afternoon clutching a baseball that will be a part of his life decades after he has played his final game.
With his team trailing Ohio 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning of a Great Lakes Regional semifinals game in Indianapolis, Maxey shook off a 0-for-7 slump and the eyes of a nationally televised audience and locked in on a 2-2 fastball.
By the time the ball landed well beyond the fence in center field for a walkoff three-run home run, Maxey's teammates were already storming the field to celebrate a 5-4 victory that has them one win away from the Little League World Series.
"I knew a fastball was coming, and I got on it," said Maxey, who will lead Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores into the Great Lakes championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday against top-seeded Illinois.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth, it looked as though the Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores players might be watching that title game on television back in their homes after reliever Jimmy Mazzola had surrendered a pair of runs in the top of the frame to put his team in a 4-2 hole.
"I was mad because I felt like I blew the game for my team," said Mazzola, who ended up being the winning pitcher after John Lizza and Ryan Shanley led off the bottom of the sixth with singles to cue Maxey's mammoth blast.
Knowing his son wanted redemption, Tom Mazzola faced a dilemma when Jimmy's spot in the order came up. He could let his son hit, or he could re-enter Maxey, who was hitless with three strikeouts in five regional games.
"Tommy's got a bigger swing," Tom Mazzola said when asked about the decision. "He goes deeper than Jimmy does, and they played really shallow. I thought Tommy could hit a gap shot before Jimmy could hit a gap shot.
"He's too good of a hitter with that concentration and that kind of pressure on the pitcher not to come through," he continued. "I mean, I didn't think he was going to hit a home run, but I knew he was going to hit a shot."
Ohio manager Tim Nichting said a shot was the last thing he expected from Maxey.
"We thought the kid would bunt," he admitted. "Payton's fastball was good, but the kid just ran into one. That's life."
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores only managed two hits through the first five innings before stringing the three together in the sixth to win it.
Lizza hit a solo home run in the second for an early 1-0 lead, and Chad Lorkowski lined a single off the fence in right in the fourth, but that was all the team got off Ohio starter Cameron Tenhundfeld, who struck out nine and walked two.
After a pair of RBI doubles put Ohio up 2-1, Grosse-Pointe Woods-Shores caught a break in the fifth and scored the tying run without a hit when it parlayed a leadoff walk and back-to-back errors into an unearned run.
Ohio bounced back from the miscues to score a pair in the top of the sixth off Jimmy Mazzola, who had come on in relief after a strong performance by starter Antonio Moceri (4.2 innings pitched, two runs, three hits, four strikeouts, four walks).
"Antonio pitched a rock-star game," Tom Mazzola said. "He carried us."
Then Maxey muscled them into the championship game.
Mazzola said he will send the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Lorkowski to the mound in the championship game.
"We've got our big horse going," he said. "The game plan is set up perfect."
Woods-Shores punched its ticket to the Little League World Series two days later, crushing Jackie Robinson West 10-3 in the title game of the Great Lakes Region.
Lorkowski led the team on the mound and at the plate.
He struck out 10 in five innings on the mound and blasted two homers at the plate as Woods-Shores jumped out to a commanding 9-0 lead.
It is the first Grosse Pointe team to earn a spot in the World Series in Williamsport since 1979.
The boys will spend more than a week in Williamsport trying to win the prestigious Little League championship.