SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - Relax Chandler junior high school teachers, your kids are finally coming home.
The Chandler National Little League all-stars bowed out of the Western Region tournament Friday with a 10-0 loss to Tracy National, the champs of Northern California.
That means Chandler National fell two wins short of becoming the second team from the league in the past three seasons to go to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
Chandler National had eked out a dramatic 16-15 win over Tracy National on Thursday afternoon.
Both teams saved their best pitchers for Friday's semifinal, and the result was dramatically different.
Tracy National pounded out four homers, including a three-run shot to left by Michael Hager in the bottom of the third to put Northern California ahead 7-0.
Tracy pushed across its 10th run in the bottom of the fifth, creating a run-rule win (Chandler would have had one more at bat in the sixth).
Chandler manager Randy Rector praised Hager, who also pitched and kept Chandler off balance by mixing fastballs and curves effectively.
“He must have been staying away from the middle of the plate because we have kids who just don't miss there,” Rector said.
His club sometimes needs to see a pitcher once through the order, he said.
“I fully expected us to hit the second time through the lineup,” Rector said. “I guess his location was good enough to make it tough for us.”
On the other side, Chandler's pitchers sometimes missed their spots when they got ahead in counts, Rector said.
“But if you don't hit, it doesn't matter,” he said.
The Chandler National players had missed more than a week of school while staying here for the tournament, though they tried to keep up with their assignments while living in a barracks-style dorm near the field.
If nothing else, Arizona — now known as one of the nation's premiere areas for youth baseball — continues the state's recent run of producing great teams.
In addition to Chandler National's exciting run to the Little League World Series two years ago, a team from north Scottsdale came within one game of going to the big stage in Pennsylvania in 2000, while a team from the northwest Valley came within a game of doing the same in 2002.
And, of course, Chandler National ended up two games short this year.
This year's Chandler team featured strong pitching and a deep lineup,
though — as Rector had pointed out beforehand — “We don't have that one freak-of-nature kid that some of these teams have.”