WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — They are ready to take on the world. But first they must conquer the nation.
Massapequa’s Elite Eleven — the kids from Metro Region champion Massapequa Coast Little League — have come here seeking a Little League World Series championship. It could be a 10-day climb to a title-game matchup against the International bracket champion, but the first summit to reach is the United States championship and that ascent begins with a Friday night game against West champion Honolulu, Hawaii, at Lamade Stadium and before a national television audience.
And that first step they’re taking is a doozy. Honolulu was the 2018 World Series champion and took third place last year. It returns its coaching staff and two players from last season. On Wednesday night Honolulu trounced Bonney Lake with an 11-1 mercy-rule victory and the little Long Islanders were there to take it in.
“They’re a solid team,” player Danny Fregara said. “They have good pitching, good hitters. They make a lot of contact.”
“That Hawaii team would probably have to be seen as the favorite on our side,” Massapequa manager Roland Clark said. “You can see they are well-coached in how they play. Plus their league has won a World Series and they have World Series-experienced players.
“That said, you have to play the games . . . and I like how our team plays.”
Massapequa Coast is in the Little League World Series for the first time in its 72-year history and is the first Long Island entry since Rockville Centre in 1978. Should it prevail against Honolulu in the double-elimination tourney, it would play in a U.S. quarterfinal round game at 7 p.m. on Monday. If not, it will play an elimination game at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Though Clark hasn’t committed to a starting pitcher, it would be surprising if Honolulu doesn’t see 5-9 righthander Joey Lionetti, who pitched a no-hitter against Toms River East in the Metro Region championship game last Friday. Massapequa Coast didn’t drop a contest in the regional and its record is 15-2.
When the Long Islanders first got to Williamsport on Saturday they had a workout with no fans in Lamade Stadium and “it made us feel like big leaguers,” Michael Clark said. “When we saw the place with fans on Wednesday the [scene] was crazy.”
“We want the big crowd there,” Lionetti said. “Our team? I think we play better with the big crowd . . . and we can’t wait to play.”
As it moved from the district to the section to the state and the regional tournaments, Massapequa hasn’t found a moment too big. The secret? “We believe in ourselves,” Michael Clark said.
“We’ve been in tight games, tough games," Fregara said. “This team has been in plenty of [tournament] championship games and we are used to it now.”
“The district tournament might have been the toughest for them,” Roland Clark said. “They were playing in front of crowd where they knew everybody and against their friends and people they go to school with and the neighboring towns, even the other team in ours, Massapequa International. The state and the region [tournaments] didn’t have all the extra things that come with playing on the Island.”
Massapequa Coast has gotten contributions up and down the 11-man roster as it climbed to this World Series, Roland Clark said. Ryan Huksloot had three home runs in one tournament. Christian Bekiers had seven hits out of the leadoff spot in another. Alex Pagano, Mikey Castellano and Lionetti have all taken turns in the spotlight.
“We’ve done well in a number of ways,” Roland Clark said. “We can hit home runs, but we bunt and do delayed steals and play errorless ball in the field. We’re not one dimensional.”
Michael Clark said the experience of playing teams from all over New York State and against champions from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey in the Regional has shown him something about the baseball back home.
“All those teams are great [and] very tough, but Long Island is very good,” he explained. “We’re tough and we know how to play ball . . . and we don’t give up.”