With the District 10 Majors tournament championship game knotted at 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning on Monday night, Chantilly American’s Matthew Nava stepped up to home plate.
With a state tournament berth on the line, runners stood nervously on first and second base, hoping Nava could provide a hit that would hand Chantilly Little League its first District 10 trophy since 2009.
“I struck out two times before that, and I really wanted to make up for what I’d done,” Nava said.
Just a few seconds after his at bat started, Nava watched the ball spring from his bat toward left-center field, which sent Eric Tsai on the run of his life.
Tsai barreled toward home from second base and reached the plate in time to be greeted by a mob of exuberant teammates.
Nava’s single produced a 2-1 win for Chantilly American against defending champion Southwestern Youth Association East, and earned Chantilly a spot in this weekend’s Virginia State Little League tournament in Chesapeake, Va.
“I swung at the first pitch, and it happened to become a single,” Nava said. “It was really awesome to have a walk-off hit against such a competitive team.”
In a gritty battle between two of the area’s best defenses, no runs were scored until the final inning. SYA East pitcher Tommy Bradley had tossed a no-hitter through five, striking out 12 in the process. For Chantilly American, Nava (4 1/3 innings) and Tyler Youk (1 2/3 innings) had scattered six hits across the game.
SYA East broke the stalemate in the top of the sixth inning with a home run. Youk led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and Tsai doubled to the leftfield corner to score Youk and tie the game. Ryan Hodinko then reached on an error, and Nava took care of the rest.
“I’m just really proud of the boys because it was a lot of hard work, not just in the last few weeks when we practice every day, but they’ve been putting time in for years,” Chantilly American manager Frank Nava said. “My son and a lot of the others have been playing baseball since 2004. They’ve dedicated a lot of time to it, and when you see all the hard work pay off in their last season in Little League, that’s what means the most to me. All the time that coaches put in with them and all the kids’ dedication just kind of came together in the best possible way.”
Although it was a battle of No. 1 seeds, Monday night’s title game felt a bit like big brother versus little brother. SYA East, playing on its home field, had been making a habit of sending Chantilly packing — they had edged Chantilly teams the previous two years at this stage. As the game wound down, it appeared things were heading in that direction once again, until Chantilly American’s bats got hot at just the right time.
“Beating SYA East on their home turf meant that much more to everyone because we have a great program and we love to see them going up against each other,” Frank Nava said. “So this was big for us to do this for the first time in a few years.”
Chantilly American must now gear up for the state tournament, where they will play their first game at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Charles Peete Little League from District 6. Chantilly American won the District 10 title last year and advanced to the state tournament in the 10-11 age group. Their 1-2 record in pool play gave them a harsh taste for the higher degree of difficulty at that stage — something that won’t get any easier at the Majors level this time around.
“We expect to see really, really competitive baseball with some really deep teams, teams with their top three to six batters who are really going to be very good,” Frank Nava said. “That’s when you have to have your pitching down. There’s stuff you can’t throw to those guys that you might throw to guys later in the [batting] order. It boils down to what our team is about: really good defense, really good pitching and timely hitting. I think if we can put those things together then there’s nobody we can’t compete against.”
Chantilly American can be encouraged by the fact a team from Fairfax County has won the state title and represented Virginia at the Southeastern Regional Little League Tournament each of the past three years. Still, with so many talented teams gunning to shatter that trend, guarantees are few and far between.
“Every year is different; you never know quite what to expect,” Matthew Nava said. “I remember some good teams from last year that will be playing, so it will be interesting. We’ll see what happens.”