Little Leaguers earn state's top prize

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— When a small group of 14-year-olds from Steamboat Springs entered the Little League District 3 tournament last month, the idea of earning a state title was not a top priority.

"I never thought that we would win a state title," coach Doug Wood said. "Three years in a row we've had a team qualify for the state tournament, and we go down and get hammered by those bigger Front Range teams."

But all that changed Wednesday night when the team beat Corte, 6-5, for the state crown and a berth in the Southwestern Regional.

"I went down there just hoping that we would win a game. But after we beat Arapahoe ... and then Cortez ... I started thinking about it," Wood said.

By the time the Steamboat team reached the final inning of the title game, the idea of winning a state title was the only thing on the minds of the nine players on the field and the coaches in the dugout.

"When we started, nobody was thinking about the state title," pitcher Jordan Williams said. "It was so exciting to win that game."

Steamboat earned a berth in the championship by beating Arapahoe and Cortez in the first two games of the double elimination tournament earlier this week. Cortez played its way back into the championship game, needing to beat Steamboat twice to win the title. Steamboat needed a single win over Cortez to claim the crown.

Steamboat lost the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader, 11-4.

"We conceded that game after five innings," Wood said. "The kids didn't want to, but I knew we weren't going to come back, and if we didn't get the second game going we would never make it before the 11:30 p.m. curfew."

The third game between the teams would decide the championship and the right to advance to the Southwestern Regional to be held Aug. 8 in Grand Junction.

With the exception of a two-run homer in the sixth that made it a one-run game, Williams was nearly perfect on the mound. After giving up the monster home run, he came back out and shut Cortez down in the final inning to secure the win.

Williams celebrated the win along with his teammates Michael Lyon, Jake Stanford, Nick Grant, Elliot Girard, Alex Wood, Taylor Anderson, Jeff Truslow, Levi Gonzales and Andru Kulas.

It's the first time a Little League team from Steamboat Springs has won a state title in the senior division. Steamboat will now advance to the Southwestern Regional to face teams from Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, East Texas, West Texas, and New Mexico.

The top team after that tournament will advance to the senior division Little League World Series, which will be held near Detroit later this summer.

"It's a major feat," Steamboat Springs Little League President Travis Holmquist said. " I think everybody is excited, and it says a lot about our program that the best 13- and 14-year olds in the state of Colorado came from Steamboat Springs."

Holmquist said Steamboat only has three senior league teams and that the team was formed from a group of about 45 players who only play on a field for about three months each year.

The teams from the Front Range and Colorado Springs select their teams from hundreds of players in their area and typically start playing in March.

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