Photo by Jeff Vorva
Clear Ridge player Dave Navarro gets a hug during a welcome-home event at Hale Park on Sunday.
The 16 players on the World Series champion Clear Ridge squad and their high schools:
De La Salle
Hale to the champs.
The Clear Ridge Little League baseball team banged the ball a lot in Bangor, Maine last week and won the 2016 Senior Little League World Series.
Clear Ridge, which features players from the Clearing and Garfield Ridge areas who attend area schools, capped it off with a 7-2 victory over Australia Saturday afternoon as Mansfield Stadium in a game that was broadcast on ESPN.
The group came home to an informal celebration at Hale Park in Chicago on Sunday and fans and community leaders will get to hail the players again at Hale (located at 6232-6298 W. 62nd St.) at noon on Saturday in a formal rally. Hale Park is where many of these players got their start as six-year-olds. A decade later, they are on top of the world.
“It’s surreal,” said Zach Verta, Saturday’s winning pitcher and one of seven St. Laurence players on the Clear Ridge roster. “One day you are winning the World Series and the next day you are back home in your community celebrating with your teammates.’’
Clear Ridge outscored its opponents, 44-11, in the five games at Bangor and collected 45 hits.
But the game that had some people on the South Side and south suburbs glued to their TVs was the title game against Australia, which featured a 95-minute delay in the fifth inning with Clear Ridge leading 7-1.
“During the delay, we were trying to make sure we didn’t take them lightly because a couple of games they made comebacks,” Verta said.
“The players were Tweeting and listening to rap music during the break,” Clear Ridge manager Mark Robinson said. “They stayed loose and had a good time. I didn’t have much to say to them. Nothing fazes these kids. I just want them to stay loose and warm up in the proper way when we continued the game.’’
Clear Ridge is the first Illinois team in the 55-year history of the tournament to win the Senior Little League World Series. The organization featured a 2013 team that made it to the national tournament and went 0-4 in Bangor.
“This area has a ton of great players,” Robinson said. “We have football here but it’s a great baseball community.’’
Robinson also coached the team that went 0-for-Bangor in 2013 so he wasn’t making any big predictions this year. But now that it’s over, he was able to brag about his team.
“I kind of had a thought this could happen,” he said. “But I didn’t want to say anything. This group has been together since the players were six. Once we got through the state tournament, I didn’t think anyone was going to stop us.’’
Verta said he wasn’t nervous about pitching in a nationally televised game with the top prize on the line.
“I’ve been in a lot of big games and I didn’t want to treat it like any other game,” he said. “So I treated it like I was pitching against little kids pretty much.’’
10 HUG --