There’s an old media rule that’s been adhered to, with few exceptions, for decades:
“No cheering in the press box.”
It’s there for a reason: As reporters our job is to report what happens objectively and accurately. Our job is to make readers who weren’t there feel as if they were, from as unbiased a perspective as possible. And I’ll do that to the best of my ability this weekend.
But I’m not going to lie: I’m pulling for Federal Little League.
The same way I pull for every area high school team that reaches a state championship game.
It’s just a better story, and a more enjoyable one to write, when the local team wins. The hugs, the smiles, the satisfaction in the players’ faces — what’s not to love?
And what’s not to love about the story of this Federal team?
Federal is two wins away from becoming the first Washington County Little League to reach the Little League World Series since National in 1968. American was the last team before Federal to win the state title, in 1990.
Think about this: Until last year, Federal had never won a district title. Now they’re knocking on the door of Little League’s grandest stage. They’re the No. 1 seed in the Mid-Atlantic Regional semifinals. So far, they’ve been the best team in a six-state area (Maryland, Delaware, D.C., New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania). That’s incredible.
Two more wins won’t come easy. New Jersey — which Federal faces Friday at 3 p.m. — led Federal 6-0 in Wednesday’s pool-play game before Federal rallied for an 8-7 victory. And both New York and Pennsylvania — which play in the other semifinal — are formidable teams. Federal beat Pennsylvania 7-4 on Monday in a tough game.
But Federal, as you may have heard by now, is formidable in its own right. Federal has averaged 11.6 runs and three home runs per game. Nine of its 12 players have homered at least once, eight at least twice and five at least four times. I’ve watched plenty of Little League World Series games over the years, and I’m confident that Federal will not run into a better offensive team this year.
My question going into states and beyond was, did Federal have enough pitching other than Andrew Yacyk, a tall lefty who has been nearly unhittable — he’s an ace in every sense. The answer so far has been yes. Zane Schreiber has been very good as the team’s No. 2 starter — he pitched and won the state championship game against a very good Easton team — and the rest of the pitchers have been good enough, with this offense behind them, to keep Federal undefeated. Now Schreiber is ready to start Friday and Yacyk — barring an emergency relief appearance Friday — will be ready for the final should Federal get there.
The pieces are in place for a historic weekend. Here’s a question: If Federal advances to the Little League World Series, where does that rank among the top Washington County sports stories of all time? In my opinion, this would be the biggest story in my 10 years at The Herald-Mail. Over the last week, we’ve been inundated by calls from people all over the county asking about the results of Federal’s pool-play games. When our phones are ringing off the hook like that (and it doesn’t happen that often), you know a team has captured widespread interest.
But talk of a World Series appearance is putting the cart before the horse — and that’s one thing Federal’s coaches have been great at not doing. From Day 1 of this whole journey, they’ve kept the kids’ focus on what’s next. I hear the saying “We’ll take it one game at a time” more than any other in interviews (and that’s fine, if I was a coach I’d say the same), but Federal has taken it even further. Its mantra has been “Win the next inning.” That’s perfect — it keeps the kids in the moment. Especially now — when the hype machine is really going to crank up (and yes, I’ll be leading it) — getting the kids to focus on the next at-bat or the next pitch is essential.
Make no mistake about it: Federal Little League has proven it has the talent to reach to World Series.
That, in and of itself, is pretty amazing.