Massapequa has already made history, and its sights are set on more.
Massapequa Coast Little League players won the New York State title last weekend, the first state championship in the league’s 72-year history. Now Massapequa are set to start play in the Metro Regionals in Bristol, Connecticut on Saturday, one last hurdle as they attempt to make a magical run to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for the Little League World Series.
“There is nothing more exciting than the thought of an 11 or 12 year old kid achieving their Little League Baseball dream of advancing to the Little League World Series,” said Roland Clark, l team coach, to the Post on Thursday.
Added Alex Pagano, a pitcher and first baseman who leads the team in home runs: “It’s definitely very exciting. Coming to Williamsport would be huge because we would be the first team from Massapequa to do so.
The boys certainly have a legitimate chance to achieve this dream. Fierce competition awaits in the region – representatives from New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island are also vying for the coveted spot in Williamsport. In the double-elimination tournament, Massapequa will start against perennial little league powerhouse Toms River (NJ) East.
Massapequa didn’t want it any other way.
“At the end of the day, we’re the New York State champions, and the teams we’re going to face in regionals are also state champions,” Clark said. “It’s a tournament of champions and anything can happen. The competition will be fierce. We’ll just try to keep a positive attitude and never give up on our philosophy that the game isn’t over until the final.
“It’s worked pretty well for us so far.”
Indeed, he did, although the caveat is that Massapequa rarely needed to squeeze and sweat until the final. In the state championship, his two knockout competitions proved to be rather stress-free.
In the semi-final match against East Greenbush Castleton, Massapequa took a 10-0 win through the mercy rule. Then, in the final against West Nyack Nanuet – who had previously beaten Massapequa in pool – Massapequa got their revenge via another win on the leniency rule, 15-5.
So far in the tournament, Massapequa is 12-2.
“It kind of sent the message that Massapequa would be a team to remember,” Clark said of his team’s triumphs.
Massapequa turned that message into a stellar play on the court. Not only did Massapequa hit the most home runs of any state championship team, but it also allowed the fewest home runs.
“The great thing about my team, from the first guy to the 11th guy, is that everyone contributes,” Clark said. “Everyone has something special to offer. We are not relying on just one player. I think that’s what has made the state tournament and this race so far very special.
Clark has been through it all before – the hype and fanfare of the Massapequa community, not to mention the growing attention and lure of dreams fulfilled.
Massapequa has two little leagues, the other being the Massapequa International Little League. While Massapequa Coast had never sent a team to regionals until this year, Massapequa International did, most recently in 1989. Clark played for the 1989 team.
Thirty-three years later, he is at the helm for another magical race. Coming full circle, he said, is a “special moment.”
Yet he insists that the spotlight is rightly on the kids. They were not the favorites to come to this. This label was awarded to South Shore Staten Island or Webster.
“It wasn’t an expectation,” Clark said. “It’s a tough tournament.”
Pagano added: “We expected to go far, but not this far.”
But with a trip to Williamsport looming, there’s only one New York team left standing, with only one making a definitive statement: None other than the boys from Massapequa.
“They may not be enjoying their normal summer of going to the beach or being able to hang out with their friends every day,” Clark said with a laugh. “But I think they are very happy with the compromise.”