The West Boynton All-Stars didn’t bring home a Little League World Series trophy, but they still brought back a lifetime of baseball memories.
The All-Stars fell on Saturday 5-1 to the host team — the Livermore All-Stars — in the national championship game at the Intermediate Little League World Series in Livermore, Calif.
“We’re one of the top two teams in the nation and top four in the world,” manager Michael Staie said. “That’s an incredible accomplishment for a bunch of 13-year-olds.”
Staie said the team spent the week being “treated like rock stars.”
Ryan Shiflet, 13, who played shortstop and pitched, said he felt more like a major leaguer in California.
“It was probably the best feeling in the world playing in that championship game,” Shiflet said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re in the World Series.’ I’ll never forget it.”
Tristan Rucker, a catcher and pitcher, said the experience was surreal, mainly because nobody expected them to make it as far as they did.
“We really defied the odds,” he said. “To become second (place) in the nation, I can’t even put in to words how great that feels.”
Rucker added that the players had a little help from their teammate Cole Malone, who spent the season battling leukemia and became the inspiration behind the team’s motto, “Cole Strong.”
“We weren’t the most talented, but we worked hard. We never gave up,” Rucker said.
Rucker said he’ll never forget playing in front of the biggest crowd of his life.
“They were the home team, their fans packed the field we were playing on,” he said. “We just tried to put them out of our minds and play as hard as we could.”
But the West Boynton All-Stars got the home-team treatment when they returned home to the baseball fields in suburban Boynton Beach.
A parade of firetrucks escorted the team’s bus back to the field, where they were met by fans holding signs and cheering for their hometown team. It was similar to the memorable treatment the 2003 East Boynton Little League All-Stars got when they returned from a magical run in Williamsport, Pa.
Rucker said the feeling was indescribable.
The team’s head coach, Chuck Shiflet, called it “pure happiness.”
“They had smiles from ear to ear,” Shiflet said. “As a coach, as a father, I couldn’t be prouder. I know they’ll never forget this.”