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Clear Ridge team storms through World Series to capture crown

Hale to the champs.

The Clear Ridge baseball team banged the ball a lot in Bangor, Maine last week and won the 2016 Senior Little League World Series.

Clear Ridge, which features 16-year-olds from Clearing and Garfield Ridge who attend area high schoolsÑsome of the boys play for their school teams, some not–capped it off with a 7-2 victory over Australia Saturday afternoon as Mansfield Stadium in a game that was broadcast on ESPN.

The group came home to an informal celebration at Hale Park on Sunday, and fans and community leaders will get to hail the players again at Hale, 62nd and Mulligan, at noon Saturday, Aug. 13 in a formal rally. Hale Park is where many of these players got their start as six-year-olds. A decade later, they are on top of the world.{{more}}

ÒIt’s surreal,” said Zach Verta, Saturday’s winning pitcher and one of seven St. Laurence Vikings on the Clear Ridge roster. ÒOne day you are winning the World Series and the next day you are back home in your community, celebrating with your teammates.”

Clear Ridge outscored its opponents by a whopping 44-11 in the five games at Bangor, collecting 45 hits along the way as they defeated team representing five continents.

Their perfect run began on July 31, when they blanked Barcelona (representing Europe and Africa), 6-0. A day later, they won a come-from-behind slugfest versus Melbourne (representing Asia and Australia), 13-8. Twenty-four hours after that, they pounded Puerto Rico (representing all of Latin America, including South America), 11-1. In the semi-finals on Thursday, Aug. 4, they blanked a team from Virginia, 7-0, setting the stage for last Saturday’s final triumph.

Saturday’s big game against the Aussies was what had many on the Southwest Side glued to their TV sets. To ratchet up the tension, the contest included a 95-minute delay in the fifth inning with Clear Ridge leading 7-1.

ÒDuring the delay, we were trying to make sure we didn’t take them lightly, because in a couple of games they made comebacks,” Verta said.

ÒThe players were Tweeting and listening to rap music during the break,” Clear Ridge Manager Mark Robinson said. ÒThey stayed loose and had a good time. I didn’t have much to say to them. Nothing fazes these kids. I just want them to stay loose and warm up in the proper way when we continued the game.”

Clear Ridge is the first Illinois team in the 55-year history of the tournament to win the Senior Little League World Series. A CRLL team of 16-year-olds made it to the big show three years ago, but went 0-4 in that tournament in Maine.

ÒThis area has a ton of great players,” Robinson said. ÒWe have football here, but it’s a great baseball community.”

Robinson also coached the team that went 0-for-Bangor in 2013, so he wasn’t making any big predictions this year. But now that it’s over, he was able to brag about his team.

ÒI kind of had a thought this could happen,” he said. ÒBut I didn’t want to say anything. This group has been together since the players were six. Once we got through the state tournament, I didn’t think anyone was going to stop us.”

Verta said he wasn’t nervous about pitching in a nationally televised game with the top prize on the line.

ÒI’ve been in a lot of big games and I didn’t want to treat it like any other game,” he said. ÒSo I treated it like I was pitching against little kids, pretty much.”

Editor’s Note: More Clear Ridge coverage and photos in the print edition of the Southwest News-Herald, available on local newsstands. Or better yet, call 708-496-0265 during weekday business hours and order convenient home delivery for about 50 cents a week.)

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