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Heartbreak and pride: Auburn community praises all-stars' LLWS showing
The Auburn All-Stars' remarkable and unexpected run at the Little League World Series came to a heartbreaking end Thursday afternoon.
A hush fell over a jammed Chihuahua's Mexican Restaurant when Pearland, Texas erupted for a four-run sixth inning to deny Auburn of a chance to play in Saturday's U.S. championship game at South Williamsport, Pa.
Leading 5-3, Auburn was three outs away from advancing but ran out of gas. The Texas rally suddenly quieted a packed house of spirited fans at the north Auburn hangout, the team's adopted headquarters during the Series.
"Tough loss," a disappointed Cole Clark said after the final out. "I don't know. It was just their day. A couple of plays they made decided the game."
Clark, an Auburn Little League All-Star during his young playing days, was proud of the effort.
"Auburn is a good team. They fought to the very end," he said. "Our team never got this far. For them to make it this far means so much to the program, the community and the city."
Auburn, the state and Northwest Regional champion, arrived at Pennsylvania on a 15-game winning streak. The all-stars recovered from a first-round loss to
eliminate Plymouth, Minn., and Fairfield, Conn., before zapping heralded and previously unbeaten Texas in the first game of the Pool B finals.
Needing to beat Texas again to stay in the title hunt, Auburn came up short.
Watching the action from afar on ESPN, fans clung to every pitch, hit and run.
"My blood pressure is a little high right now," said Arlene Leeman, "but we gave it our best shot. The kids gave it their all."
Auburn held an early 4-0 lead before Texas responded with three runs in the fourth.
Fans, however, remained pumped up and optimistic for a win.
"I think they're going to play Chinese Taipei in the final," said Rick Waling between pitches. "It's funny. When I moved to Kirkland in the '80s, Kirkland won the World Series. … I moved to Auburn three years ago … and they're going to win it all."
Few expected Auburn to get this far.
"Absolutely not. This is completely out of the dark," said Chris Cox, vice president of operations for Auburn Little League. "I'm so proud of them, the organization and everybody who made it possible. It was a group effort.
"For me, this is a highlight of what we try do with these players. I cannot thank enough the many people who helped make this possible."
Wendy Buchanan was busy minding the team store, selling commemorative T-shirts, baseballs, signs, visors and candy to help raise money to help cover the player families' traveling expenses.
"To see the kids you know play and watch them grow up on the screen is very special and exciting," Buchanan said. "Something like this has brought the community together."
Fans now are eager to welcome home the boys.
"I told Mayor Pete Lewis to get ready for a ticker-tape (parade)," said 80-year-old fan Donnie Berry.
Auburn has been on the road for three weeks – beginning with the state tournament at Elma and continuing with a regional appearance at San Bernardino, Calif.
The team went directly from Southern California to Pennsylvania to make the World Series' traditional all-stars parade last Thursday and prepare for the tournament's first official game last Friday.
"We're very proud of them and we can't wait for them to come home so we can show them how much," said Niki Thompson.
"The fact they made it this far is priceless."