In the summer of 2007, eleven boys from West Salisbury Little League embarked on a spiritual journey that captured the hearts and minds of our town and surrounding communities. The journey began in June 2007, where they were assembled together for the first time to compete for the Maryland District 8 Title. The boys played and won all six games in district playoffs by a combined score of 79 to 7, earning them the right to compete in the Maryland State Tournament in Rising Sun, Maryland.Ask them about it sometime.
The State Tournament was a double elimination format, and the boys won their first game, but lost a close second game. At this point, the boys encountered their first real challenge. It was either win the next five games or go home. With incredible courage and determination, the West Salisbury boys captured the Maryland State Title. There were many highlights, but perhaps the walk-off homerun by Connor Shockley in the bottom of the sixth inning of the last game was the most memorable.
After capturing the state title, the boys headed to Bristol, Connecticut to represent Maryland in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament. Competing in the tournament were state champions from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. These teams competed in a playoff format, where only four teams earn the privilege of competing in the Mid-Atlantic Championship. During these playoffs, many WSLL boys shined. In a game against Delaware, Ryan Aebly hit two homeruns with seven RBIs.
Our young men earned the fourth and final seed for the championship weekend, drawing a game against the number one seed team from New York. The New York team was the only undefeated team in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament, and brought with them a 20 and 1 record. Scott McGiffin was called upon to start the game and pitched teh first four innings, allowing only five hits and five runs to the powerful New York team. New York held a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, until Maryland scored nine runs. David Dechert was the catalyst for the big fifth inning, hitting a three-run homerun into trees beyond the left-field fence, and Brian Kragler, Jr. kept the pressure on NY with a follow-up double. March Waguespack drove in two runs, and Gavin Yingling doubled and scored in the bottom of the fifth. Ryan Boyce added a hit and scored two runs in this season saving inning. Maryland held on to defeat New York 11 to 10 in an exciting sixth inning. With the win, Maryland earned the privilege to play Pennsylvania in the Championship game which would be televised nationally on ESPN2 the next night.
The game against Pennsylvania was a magnificent pitching duel between the top two teams in the region, with both teams going scoreless through five innings. In the top of the sixth inning, Maryland scored four runs which included a Craig East two-run homerun. In the bottom of the sixth, pitcher East finished his complete-game shutout, allowing just two hits over the course of the game. Seth Windmullers' outstanding defense at short-stop made the plays-of-the-day on ESPN. The win over Pennsylvania earned the boys the Mid-Atlantic Championship Trophy, and perhaps more importantly, one of the coveted spots in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. West Salisbury Little League had earned the honor of being one of the final eight teams in the United States.
Our young men participated in two World Series games, facing the Arizona team in a nationally televised game on ABC on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in front of 18,000 fans, and then against the Minnesota team the following night. Craig East and Ryan Aebly hit homeruns in the Arizona game, and Canaan Cropper almost single-handily won the Minnesota game with his complete game pitching performance and three-run homerun. Unfortunately, the West Salisbury team came up short in both games, and the ride from Pemberton Drive to Williamsport had ended. However, one last memory did take place later in the week with the boys finishing their Little League World Series experience with a win over the international team from Saudi Arabia.
On the ride home from Williamsport to Salisbury, the team bus was greeted by over thirty fire engines from towns all over Delmarva, who escorted the bus back to the place their journey had begun. At this field, families and friends gathered to give our boys a "Hero's Welcome Home." We were proud.
Over the course of the summer, these young men were magnificently led by Manager Chris Yingling and Coach Bill Cropper working behind the scenes on the practice fields where coaches' Gary Shockley and Brian Kragler, Sr., and guiding the league was President Todd Stephens.
Although the wins in the Little League World Series eluded the boys that summer, the success achieved by this group of young men will be remembered for many years. Perhaps the guiding force and bond that was a substantial part of the boys' lives that summer, was their motto "Man Up"