They're back, with a mostly different cast of players but with the same ultimate destination in mind: the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
The Chandler National All-Star team is poised to make another run at the state title it won last year. The victory propelled them on a run deep into the World Series, a feat that captured the hearts of sports fans in the state and made them the most successful local Little League team ever.
So far, this summer's club has swept through its district tournament against teams from Tempe, Chandler and Ahwatukee and is poised to advance to the final-four elimination rounds at the state level.
Altogether, Chandler National won its first 12 games at the district and state levels. Then, in a battle of the only two undefeated teams at the state tournament, they lost, 5-3, Monday to Tucson Santa Rita.
Chandler National still has a good chance to advance to the final-four elimination rounds that start Wednesday. The state title game could be played as early as 7:30 p.m. Saturday, or as late as 7:30 p.m. Monday, at Golden Eagle Park in Fountain Hills.
The Chandler National team includes one player who figured in last year's exploits: shortstop Michael Benjamin. He's the son of Mike Benjamin, the former ASU star and major league utility player.
The senior Benjamin manages this year's Chandler National squad.
Trying to duplicate last year's magical ride might be unrealistic, but this year's club at least appears to have more balance.
“Last year's team had more kids who stood above the others,” the senior Benjamin said. That team had the sort of monster sluggers who could hit the ball out on any given at-bat, notably World Series stars Cory Bernard and Tim Fowler.
“Last year, we had three or four kids who we relied on for most of our runs,” Benjamin said. As for this team, “Offensively, we're more solid through the lineup, more even-keeled, without the standouts.”
Agrees the younger Benjamin, “This year, I think we're better overall.”
Losing their first game appeared to be a bit of a jolt for this year's players. But as the younger Benjamin pointed out, “One game isn't going to take us out. We lost our first game (at state) last year and ended up winning.”
The state winner will advance to the regional tournament in San Bernardino, Calif., with the regional championship game being shown on national television.
Three other East Valley teams also are in the state tournament: Gilbert American, Scottsdale Cactus and Scottsdale McCormick Ranch. All have scored wins and are battling to advance to the final four.