Taylor Northwest wins Little League baseball state championship

Taylor Northwest won the Michigan state championship of Little League baseball July 28 at Papp Park.

But the 11- and 12-year-old all-stars from Taylor didn’t get much time to celebrate. They play in the Great Lakes regional tournament starting August 2 in Indianapolis.

Northwest faces the Indiana state champions from the New Albany Little League at 7:45 p.m. Also in the hunt for a regional title are the state champs from Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

The winner earns a spot in the Little League World Series set for August 17-26 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The Little League World Series is the "little brother" of the Junior League World Series for 13- and 14-year-olds held annually at Heritage Park in Taylor.

Northwest Coach Lanny Hall Jr. said he expects stiff competition in Indiana.

“If they’re as good as this team we just played, we’re going to have some battles,” Hall said. “They were really good.”

Northwest defeated Grand Rapids Western, 7-4, on July 28 to complete a five-game sweep during the weeklong state tournament at the four Little League fields in Taylor.

It was Northwest’s 10th straight victory since the all-star team formed prior to the District 5 tournament in Lincoln Park.

Northwest won the first four games of the state finals tournament in Taylor, then had to wait three days for its next game as teams from the losers bracket battled for a spot in the championship game on July 28.

That team was Grand Rapids Western, which won its semifinal game on July 27 over St. Clair, 3-2, on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.

On July 28, Grand Rapids struck first, on a solo home run by Seth Hicks in the bottom of the second inning. It would be the first of four home runs by Western players.

Taylor Northwest roared back in the top of the fourth when pitcher Nick Willetts followed singles by Jacob Morrow and Josh Henke with a three-run homer to center field. It was Willetts’ fifth home run in five games of the state tournament.

Northwest added four more runs in the fifth when Andrew Surma singled, Dakota Foster was safe on an error and both of them scored ahead of Morrow, who stroked a three-run homer. Morrow went 3-for-4 in the game.

Before the inning was over, Henke signed up the middle, advanced on a walk to Willetts and a single by Zack Morris and scored on a fielder’s choice by Brett Hall.

In the bottom of the fifth, Western got home runs from Derrick Lewis and Mitchell Gumowski to cut the lead to four.

The Grand Rapids team got another homer by Matt Neal in the bottom of the sixth and then loaded the bases with nobody out before Northwest’s Austin Dubois got the last two batters to strike out.

“It’s a good feeling,” Northwest Manager Hall said. “Our motto was ‘One team, one dream.’ It’s not one thing. The team never talked about regionals.”

Willetts, who was the winning pitcher in two of the five games, said the team can do well in the regional tourney if “we put our minds to it.”

“I think we have a great team,” he said. “Our attitudes are great. We can field the ball, hit the ball. We’re a good all-around team.”

Hall’s group of players has not lost a district game since the team first formed as 7-year-olds. This was the team’s first state championship, although three of the players – Henke, Morrow and Dakota Foster – were members of the 11-year-old state champions from Taylor Northwest two years ago.

Other members of this year’s team are Tyler Collett, Devin Goodwell, Eric Hicks and Austen Zub. Coaches are Tim Woolley and Jason Donaldson. The league president is Lanny Hall Sr. District 5 administrator is Sharon Mayer.

Grand Rapids Manager George Rosinski said he felt Taylor Northwest benefited from a home field advantage – all five of Taylor’s games were played at Papp Park, Northwest’s home field – but said the players on the field decided the tournament.

“Inspite of what goes on outside the white lines, 13 kids decided the game for us and 13 kids decided the game for them,” Rosinski said. “Take nothing away from the kids. These were two great baseball teams.”

Western went 4-2 during the weeklong, 16-team tournament. Both losses were to Taylor Northwest.

For all the results and the complete schedule of games in the state tournament, visit http://www.cityoftaylor.com/node/13501.

To follow Taylor Northwest in the Little League regional tournament in Indianapolis, visit www.littleleague.org.

-- Dave Gorgon

Taylor Northwest went 5-0 in last week’s Little League state championship tournament in Taylor. Here is a synopsis of the team’s victories:

Taylor Northwest 7, St. Clair 0: In the opener, Josh Henke pitched a three-hitter, striking out 10 in what would be Northwest’s only shutout of the week. Northwest scored three in the first, two in the second and two more in the fifth. Austin Dubois and Nick Willetts each had two hits.

Taylor Northwest 12, Grosse Pointe Farms/City 1: Northwest pounded out 12 hits and scored at least two runs in each of the five innings of the mercy game. Willetts had the most memorable day, hitting a home run in each of his three at-bats and knocking in six runs. He also was the winning pitcher, allowing six hits and striking out 12 batters. Jacob Morrow and Brett Hall had two hits each, including a home run. Henke, Eric Hicks also had two hits apiece.

Taylor Northwest 6, Midland Northeast 4: Midland knew it was in for a long game when Henke and Willetts hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the first inning. Northwest busted open a 2-2 tie with four runs in the bottom of the third. Midland battled back for two in the top of the sixth to make it interesting. Dubois was the winning pitcher.

Taylor Northwest 6, Grand Rapids Western 5: In perhaps the most exciting game of the week, Northwest had to rally from two runs down to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth. After Western scored in the top of the seventh to go up, 5-4, Hall walked and – with two outs and a three-two count – Hicks stroked a walk-off two-run homer to win the game. Dakota Foster picked up the win in relief.

Taylor Northwest 7, Grand Rapids Western 4: While sitting idle for three days, Northwest watched the competition get eliminated one by one in the losers bracket: First Birmingham, then Midland, then Grosse Pointe and finally St. Clair until the only team left was Grand Rapids Western, the same team Northwest faced on July 24. It took a walk-off homer by Western to eliminate St. Clair in the bottom of the sixth of their game on Friday. On Saturday, three-run home runs by winning pitcher Nick Willetts and right fielder Jacob Morrow made the difference. Western scored each of its runs on solo home runs before Austin Dubois came on to save the game for the state champs.