Members of the Massapequa International Little League Junior team woke up Saturday morning in Michigan to new black uniforms with silver lettering across the chest. The letters spell out the word EAST, as in the eastern region of the country.
The team composed of 13 and 14-year-olds, including one girl, defied the odds all summer and Monday will be represent the East in the Little League Junior World Series in Taylor, Mich., near Detroit.
The group is the first 13-14 team to make it to the World Series in the league's 57 years, according to coach Joe Pinto, who added Massapequa was represented twice before by a senior group in 1964 and 1975, respectively.
"Nobody really gave the team a chance to do anything over the years," Pinto said. "To do it the way we did it makes for just an incredible feeling."
It was no easy road. After winning the District 31 title and then claiming the section championship, Massapequa had to win five games in three days to win the state crown. That's because they suffered a loss in the first game, which put them in the loser's bracket.
Cole Masterson, a shortstop who hadn't pitched in two years, Pinto said, threw six shutout innings in the deciding regional game against Syracuse's Seneca North.
With timely hitting and good pitching from Masterson, Mikey Cottone, Kristen Moldovan, and Matt Pinto, among others, MILL took care of business in the regional round against Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Moldovan, who Pinto said was the first girl to play in the junior regionals, regularly plays third base and is one of the team's starting pitchers. She pitched Massapequa past Pennsylvania to get to the championship round on Tuesday with six strong innings.
Massapequa will play Louisiana Monday in its first World Series game. East will play Indiana, Tennessee and Arizona, which are the three other teams that make up the U.S. pool, during the week as well. The two teams that accumulate the most wins advance to the U.S. pool semifinals. The championship against the International pool winner takes place Aug. 17.
"I'm just amazed at the accomplishment so far," Pinto said. "For us, this is a first and it's such a tremendous accomplishment."