With back-to-back victories over Naperville American—the first ending with one of the most unconventional comeback walk-offs possible—the Western Springs 11-year-old District all-star team captured the Village’s first Little League sectional title Sunday night since 2009’s 12-year-old team.
Following a 13-0 mercy-rule blowout of Burbank pitched by committee, the team got in trouble quickly against Naperville American, going down 4-0 after two innings. They clawed back to 4-3 by the bottom of the sixth, coming up to bat do-or-die with the top of their order.
Nick Panos and Owen Waunn drew back-to-back leadoff walks, and then went to second and third on a wild pitch, forcing Naperville American to issue Thomas Remijas an intentional walk and load the bases with no outs. Andrew Gatland ground out an infield single to tie the game; then, following a fielder’s-choice grounder, Eric Steensma got plunked by the first pitch of his at-bat, scoring Remijas and giving Western Springs the 5-4 win.
“It was the most I’ve ever seen a Little Leaguer smile after getting hit by a pitch,” said team manager Bob Waunn. “A walk-off hit-by-pitch, and he had the welt to prove it.”
Western Springs would clinch the sectional title in the rematch on Sunday night, with Gatland throwing a complete game and the team exploding in a single big inning to win 6-1 and move into the state tournament.
“It’s nice to add another sectional title to the Western Springs tradition,” Waunn said. “Western Springs does a good job supporting all the teams."
The Village can continue supporting the team this coming Saturday, as the state tournament will be held just next door in Hinsdale’s Pierce Park. Western Springs plays a yet-undetermined opponent at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The Western Springs 11-year-old District team is Daniel Feldmeier, Dominic Fera, Andrew Gatland, Jack Hammond, Sam Hojnar, Nolan Niego, Nick Panos, Thomas Remijas, Stone Saloum, Graham Sands, Eric Steensma and Owen Waunn, with manager Bob Waunn and coaches Dean Panos and Jon Remijas.