WEBB CITY, Mo. — Carrying the hopes and cheers of a community with them, 13 boys, all of them 12 years old or under from Webb City, stand two wins away from a trip to the 2022 Little League World Series.
The Webb City Little League 12U All Stars are 2-0 in the double-elimination Midwest Regional Tournament in Indianapolis, and they play the state champion team from Iowa at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The winner earns a spot in the Midwest Regional finals while the loser falls into the losers bracket with one more chance to get into the finals. The winner of the last game of the tournament earns a trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, later this month to compete in the 75th Little League World Series.
Webb City Coach David Robinson said many of the boys on his team have been working toward this moment for almost half their lives.
“The majority of us have played together for five years,” Robinson said by telephone from Indianapolis. “There are seven or eight kids on the team that I started out throwing from my knee in batting practice and just lobbing it in there. We’ve been playing together for a long time, the majority of us. Some of these other kids who haven’t been with us as long, I coached some of them when they were 9 or 10 years old.”
Robinson said the players started preparing for this season in January with indoor workouts and practices.
During the Little League season, the boys would play on their Little League teams on the weekdays and then play in tournaments in area towns on the weekends.
The end of the season was July. Webb City had to win in district play in Sunny Jim Park in Joplin and then win in the state tournament in Concordia to claim a seat in the Midwest Regionals.
It hasn’t been a cakewalk for this team in the regionals.
The first game Webb City trailed the South Dakota team 4-1 in the final inning before rallying for four runs to win.
Robinson’s son, Brayton Robinson, said that win was probably the high point of the trip so far.
“Everyone was nervous and everything until the end,” he said. “It was amazing. We were all happy and jumping up and down.”
The second game in what coach Robinson called the “Dakota sweep” was a 17-7 win over North Dakota.
“Second game was definitely a roller coaster,” David Robinson said. “It was a back-and-forth affair until late in the game, and we finally pulled away and started getting the bats rolling.”
The team has been in Indianapolis since Aug. 3 and won’t be coming home until sometime close to this weekend.
The championship game is scheduled for Friday.
“It’s been so long it feels like we’ve been here forever,” David Robinson said. “These boys have been great. We go have hotel checks, we do everything together, and they’ve been phenomenal. They’ve been good kids since we got here, and they do everything I ask of them.”
Robinson said the families of all the boys, including some grandparents, have accompanied the team to cheer them on.
The team and coaches stay in one hotel while parents and family stay in another, and it’s the first time for many of these boys that they’ve had a chance to stay in a hotel without their parents.
“Every day, I send out an itinerary of our plan for the day,” David Robinson said. “If we’re off, we usually practice from 9 to 11 every morning. We get up. I give them an alarm. I tell them what time to get out of bed. I tell them what time to go eat breakfast. I tell them what time for their parents to come pick them up and get them to practice every morning. If we’re off, the kids usually have some free time and then we either sit down and have lunch and/or dinner as a team and with all the families and everybody. It’s a fun experience for sure.”
Player Jaxon Kent said the experience has been fun.
“This is my first time without my parents in my room,” Kent said. “It’s been a pretty cool experience to play on some of the best fields we’ve played on so far. After every game, they fix up the field, they water it down, they mow the grass, it’s pretty cool.”
Chris Stevens, father of player Bryce Stevens, said the tournament has been exciting and definitely more nerve-wracking for the adults.
“That first game was a nail-biter,” Stevens said.
Stevens said baseball mimics life in so many ways and the tournament has been a chance to pass on life’s lessons to the kids in a way that they can understand and have fun.
“As that first game unfolded, I thought there it is, our perfect example that no matter what happens later in life, you’re down by three runs, two outs and we came back and won,” Stevens said. “It’s a perfect example of baseball showing you that if you never give up, anything is possible.”
Stevens said the team really appreciated the support they’ve received from the Webb City community on the journey.
“As we said all along, the community support monetarily as well as just their willingness to applaud and recognize the effort they put into the boys is overwhelming,” Stevens said. “These boys are only 12, so it’s sometimes difficult for them to appreciate it, but as the adults involved in this equation, we can grasp it. Later in life, they will.”