Matt Morrow wanted one last chance.
Back in 2006, Morrow managed Dunedin Little League’s all-star team. It cruised through the summer, winning district and sectional tournaments before qualifying for the Southern Regional in Gulfport.
In the championship game, in front of a raucous home crowd, Dunedin lost 5-0 to Georgia. No once-in-a-lifetime trip to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.
But six years later, Morrow put some of the team back together. If they couldn’t win the Little League World Series, then by gosh, maybe they could win the Big League World Series.
“I kind of knew this would be their last season together,’’ Morrow said. “They’ll all be going off to college or doing other things. I asked District 12 if I could put a team together and they said I could.’’
Five players from the 2006 team are on this summer’s Dunedin Big League team: Ben Emery, Will Priest, Colyn O’Connell, Brett Beery and Alex Hart. All were also on the Dunedin High School team. The rest of the team is comprised of players from other local high schools. The goal was to get back to the regional tournament and win.
Dunedin defeated host South Carolina 4-2 in the final to qualify for this week’s World Series in Easley, S.C. The tournament started Wednesday, but Dunedin doesn’t begin pool play until Thursday at 4 p.m. against Indiana.
“Probably the greatest feeling ever,’’ Beery said of beating South Carolina. “After not getting there the first time and then to get there six years later, it was awesome. I don’t think it really hit anyone on our team until about four or five hours later. During the drive home we had time to think about it. I had butterflies in my stomach for about three hours.’’
Dunedin had to work even harder this year than it did in 2006 to reach the regional final. It won each of its first three tournament games 3-2, which included two game-ending bunts.
The 4-2 win, which included a two run homer by T.J. Glessner, seemed like a breeze after the first three games. When relief pitcher Jack Hamrick got the final out, the team let out a sigh of relief.
“It’s kind of like reliving an old dream,’’ Emery said. “We’ve all talked about this being our last chance to do it. We’ve got to give it all we got because we’re not going to be playing with each other after this. Hopefully, we’ll have a different outcome (than 2006).’’
“We knew how it felt in ’06 and we didn’t want that feeling again,’’ Hart added. “That’s was our motivation.’’
Dunedin enters the World Series confident.
“I think we’ll do well,’’ said O’Connell, who was drafted in the 19th round by Cleveland in this year’s MLB first-year player draft but will attend Polk State College in Winter Haven. “The team we beat to get here won it all last year. I think that shows we have a good chance.’’
Aside from the five originals, the team also includes Glessner (Osceola), Hamrick (Dunedin), Carter Cashman (Clearwater Central Catholic), Jordan Savinon (St. Petersburg College), Steven Petrilyak (Largo), Derek Webb (Largo), Jesse Dingman (Palm Harbor University), Brannon Glover (Dunedin), Brad Miller (Indian Rocks Christian) and Aaron Chesson (Dunedin).
Morrow was able to reunite with his Little League assistant coach, Don Schnitzhoffer. Alex Libby and Cameron Oxner are also assistants.
Chesson is likely out, after injuring his elbow in the regional final. But Morrow expects to have the rest of the team available for the World Series.
If Dunedin can survive pool play, it will be reseeded for the semifinals. Unlike in Little League, these Big Leaguers expect a happy ending.
“We don’t plan on losing,’’ Hart said.
Big League World Series
When/where: Through Aug. 1; Easley, S.C.
Thursday: Florida vs. Indiana, 4 p.m.
More info: www.bigleagueworldseries.org
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org