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On July 6 the Great Falls Little League Majors All-Stars left their home field tired and downtrodden, their hopes of making a run to the District 4 championship dampened by an 8-6 loss to Reston National. After coasting to victory in their first two games of pool play, the defeat felt like a gut punch, especially given the way they blew a 6-5 lead with two outs gone in the last inning.

Little did the kids know that the setback would ultimately push them closer to their dream.

The Path to States

Roster: Garrett Appleton, Zack Baskin, William Bean, Jake Berry, Brian Check, Riley Cox, Justin Duenkel, Nicholas Faili, Joey Femia, Zack Hamilton, Sam Maruca, Simon Medina, Joey Thomas

Manager: Steve Baskin

Assistant coaches: Gordon Bean, Jim Check

District 4 results:

Game 1: Great Falls def. Arlington American, 23-3

Game 2: Great Falls def. Alexandria, 10-3

Game 3: Reston National def. Great Falls, 8-6

Game 4: Great Falls def. Vienna American, 14-2

Game 5: Great Falls def. McLean National, 4-2

Game 6: Great Falls def. Vienna National, 11-1

Game 7: Great Falls def. McLean American, 9-4

State tournament opener: Friday 10 a.m. vs. Bristol

“That adversity I think helped us move forward in the next three games,” Great Falls manager Steve Baskin said. “It got us focused and made us realize that anybody can beat anybody.”

Baskin’s group came out hungry the next day, blowing past Vienna American, 14-2. Two days later they found themselves in another hole, this time facing a late 2-0 deficit against McLean National in the final game of pool play. With all the pressure bearing down, Great Falls might have buckled, but their experience three days earlier had steeled them for this moment.

Joey Thomas blasted a home run to tie things up at 2-2, followed by another run that put Great Falls ahead 3-2 at the top of the seventh. With a man on second base, Zack Baskin fouled off six straight balls. On the 11th pitch he knocked a double down the left field line to provide the final 4-2 margin.

That victory put Great Falls in the district semifinal, where they defeated Vienna American, 11-1. On Saturday they beat McLean American 9-4 to secure Great Falls’ third consecutive District 4 Majors title and book a place in this week’s state tournament.

Saturday’s contest headed toward an early finish with Great Falls jumping out to a 9-0 lead in the third inning, but McLean American fought back with three runs in the fourth and another in the sixth.

“Any kind of a six-inning game over a few hours in this heat, you get tired, so I was happy to see them jump on it quick,” Baskin said. “That is one thing we’ve been able to do the last couple of games is jump on them early and get a lead. Tonight we just hung on for dear life. McLean American is a top team. Their kids are all talented; they’ve got great players and they’re coached well. We knew it was going to be a battle coming in.”

William Bean set the tone early with four strikeouts in 35 pitches through the first two innings.

“The last couple of games I’ve been pitching well, so I just tried to get into a rhythm early in the game and tried to throw strikes,” Bean said. “It’s my last year of Little League, so it kind of meant a lot because I’ll never be playing Little League again.”

Nicholas Faili, one of two 11-year-olds on the team, relieved Bean late in the fourth inning and allowed only one run to close out the game. Rounding out Great Falls’ pitching triumvirate is Jake Berry, who tossed a six-inning gem against Vienna National in Friday’s semifinal. Berry ended the rare complete-game performance with a 73 pitch-count.

Solid pitching has proven a critical asset for them, but Great Falls wouldn’t be heading down to Bridgewater without some hot bats paving the way. Facing one of the area’s best pitchers in McLean American’s Amon Johnson, Great Falls batters opened Saturday’s contest with a string of singles and doubles before Riley Cox smashed a three-run homer over the center-field fence to make it 7-0 in the second inning.

“I think the hitting has come around to be a little more consistent. Hitting with two strikes, putting the ball in play,” Baskin said. “We probably had a few too many strikeouts today, but that’s a testament to their pitching.”

Riding three straight district titles after going without a trophy since 2002, Great Falls now moves on to face District 1 champion Bristol at 10 a.m. Friday. They will aim to advance further than last year’s Great Falls squad, which fell to West Springfield American in the state semifinals.