For the first time in more than three decades, a team from Taylor will play in the Junior League Baseball World Series.
The World Series for the best teams of 13- and 14-year-olds from around the globe is set for Aug. 11-18 at Taylor’s Heritage Park.
A team known as Taylor Combined won the Michigan District 5 championship on Monday and qualified as the host team for the international sporting event.
Taylor Combined includes all-star players and coaches from the Taylor Northeast, Taylor Northwest and Taylor North Central Little Leagues. Little League International allows leagues to combine forces to compete in post-season play and in a World Series.
The fourth Taylor Little League, Taylor South, combined with the Huron Little League for the five-team District 5 tournament and finished in third place.
Taylor South has been the host site of World Series Field at Heritage Park since the inception of the JLWS in 1981. This will be the 39th Junior League World Series, which is the older brother of the more famous Little League World Series, a tournament for 12-year-olds played in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Last year, Little League authorized the District 5 champion to become the sixth American team in the JLWS to even up the pools. There are six teams in the International Pool.
The five teams in the running to win the D5 title were Taylor Combined, South/Huron, Melvindale, Southgate and Redford Livonia.
Taylor had to win three games in a row to take the double-elimination District 5 tournament, defeating Melvindale, 13-2, in six innings in Monday’s championship game, also at World Series Field.
Winning pitcher Aidan Steele pitched into the sixth innings and wound up allowing just two hits and striking out 10 batters. Taylor scored 10 times in the top of the sixth to take a 13-0 lead. Melvindale added two in the bottom of the sixth, when the game ended on the 10-run mercy rule.
Melvindale, which split two earlier games with Taylor, finished runner-up in the tournament. Taylor outscored its opponents 43-2 in the last three games of the tournament.
This will be the third time a team from Taylor will play in the JLWS. Taylor Northwest played in 1987 and Taylor Northeast played in 1988, both times as Michigan state champions.
This year, Team Taylor will play in the opening game of the World Series against the USA Southwest regional champions at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 11. The Southwest regional tournament is under way in Broadway, Virginia. The title game is set for Monday, Aug. 5.
The rest of the USA Pool will be made up of the winners of regional tournaments in San Jose, California (West); Freehold Township, New Jersey (East); Albuquerque, New Mexico (Southwest) and Fort Wayne, Indiana (Central).
Five teams have qualified for the International Pool: six-time defending champion Chinese Taipei (Asia-Pacific Region); the Northern Metros (Australia); Guayama (Puerto Rico); Guadalupe, Mexico (Latin America Region); and Bologna, Italy (Europe-Africa Region). The sixth team will be the Canadian national champion at the end of a tournament in Lethbridge, Alberta.
Members of the Taylor Combined team include Blake Boike, Drew Thorning, Jordan Footlander, Aidan Steele, Connor Felice, Calbin “Papi” Gonzalez, Cole Loftis, Dalton Vance, Lucas Zelek, David Roberts, David Homes, Charlie Kurkowski, Cole Mucha and the injured Chris Cannon.
Rick Thorning manages the team. Jerry Footlander, Chris Cannon and Tim Mucha are coaches.
“It feels great,” Manager Thorning said after the District 5 championship game. “I know our kids are excited. It’s one of those things where we go to watch the Junior League World Series every year. The opportunity to play in it is an amazing feeling.”
Thorning, who is a 16-year corrections officer with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, said his team has “a really close family-type atmosphere among the players and parents.” He said the team feeds off the intensity of the crowd and coaches.
The players on the all-star team were selected from the four teams that competed during the regular season.
“We know that it’s just winning the district and it’s a shorter ride for us getting there,” Thorning said. “We know if we play good baseball, we can compete. It’s exciting to represent Taylor in the Junior League World Series.
“We know that there are specific ball teams that will have a long road obviously. They’ll be here for a reason. But we’re out to compete. We’ll do everything we can.”
Taylor is well known for its baseball, he said, which should lead to plenty of support during the World Series.
“We’ve got around 60,000 people in the city,” Thorning said. “Taylor is known for baseball. We have the World Series and have competitive leagues. Not many cities can say they have four Little Leagues. I grew up playing Little League at Taylor North Central. My kids are both playing there.”
The Taylor team is deep in pitching, Thorning said, and will make the most of the time between now and the start of the World Series.
“We will practice and hopefully set up a scrimmage or two. We want to hit against some pitchers who can throw. We’ll work on fundamentals. Hopefully, that can keep us going and keep us fresh.”
Written by Dave Gorgon For MediaNews Group