LAFAYETTE — “Amazing. Extraordinary.”
That’s how 12-year-old Haden Erbe described Thursday night’s come-from-behind 8-7 win at Marvin Norcross Field in Waco, Texas, a win that sent the Lafayette team to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Erbe, who pitches and plays shortstop for the all-star team.
The still-undefeated team beat out Pearland, Texas, in seven innings to earn the program its second-ever visit to Williamsport, following the 2005 team that finished third in the World Series.
A crowd of supporters, friends and family chanted “Lafayette! Lafayette! Lafayette!” when the team climbed off the bus Friday afternoon at Little League Park on Broadmoor Boulevard.
Brad Bergeron, one of the team’s coaches, said the trip home was a lot shorter than it would have been if they would have lost.
He said many of these boys looked up to that 2005 group, known as the “Cardiac Cajuns.”
That nickname could just as easily apply to this team, “because they give us all fits,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said one of the boys walked into the dugout Thursday night when the team was down 7-2 and told the team that the last Lafayette Little League team overcame that same score on its way to Williamsport.
“It was truly, truly an experience to see these guys believe and never give up,” Bergeron said. “It’s a good day.”
Team Manager Leland Padgett said the team never felt like they were out of the game, even when they were down 7-2.
“We felt like we could do it all the time, no matter what point in the game it was,” Padgett said. “That’s not surprising. It’s something our kids feel confident about.”
Catcher Cain Castille scored the game-winning run with a hit down the right field line.
“At first I thought I was going to be out,” Castille said.
When the throw to third sailed wild, Castille said he ran home for the score.
Castille credited his team.
“They’re a good group of kids and they never stop fighting until the very end of the game,” he said.
David Castille, Cain’s father, said the boys have a “special bond.”
“At this point, they’re playing like they’re brothers,” he said. “They have each other’s back. They’re playing as a team and picking each other up.”
The team will leave for Williamsport at 7:45 a.m. Sunday. Parents will likely leave either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, David Castille said,
“This is a dream come true,” he said.
The victory means Lafayette will be sending two teams to Williamsport.
The Lafayette Little League Challenger Division was one of two teams invited to represent the more than 30,000 other special-needs children in the Little League Challenger Division.
Bryan Molaison, coach of the challenger team, said he still can’t believe it.
“This may never happen again,” he said. “I was just so excited when I found out our 12-years-old had won that game.”
Molaison said the community has stepped up and helped the team with fundraising efforts to fund the team’s trip.
The challenger team flies up Aug. 25 and hits the field Aug. 27, he said.
League President Oren Smith said he doesn’t believe that two teams from the same league have ever been invited to the World Series at the same time.
“The stars were aligned,” Smith said.
The World Series starts on Aug. 18 and ends on Aug. 28.
The team’s first game will be Aug. 18 and televised on ESPN. The team will play the Southeast Region champion, either Georgia or Florida depending on who won Friday’s game.
The League covers expenses for the coach and players, but parents must fund their own travel.
For more information, including ways to donate, visit http://www.lafayettelittleleague.net.
For more information on the Challenger Team, visit http://www.lafayettechallenger.com.