Tournaments : : Story
Sunday, October 11, 2009

Houston players won Sr. Little League title

Jim Ecker        
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What happened to the baseball?
That's what everyone keeps asking Ryan Farney, who caught a popup for the final out of the 2009 Senior Little League World Series this past August in Bangor, Maine, to give his team from Texas the international title.
The answer? He has no idea.
"People always ask me, 'What happened to the ball,'" Farney related Saturday at the WWBA Underclass World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla. "I should have kept the ball, but I didn't care. I threw my glove and went and tackled our pitcher."
That ball would have been a nice collector's item, but it's long gone by now. Nobody on the team has it and nobody knows where it went. They don't have the ball, but they have the trophy and they have a lot of happy memories from Maine.
Farney, normally the shortstop for the West University Little League all-star team from Houston that won the title, was playing second base when a batter for California hit a popup with two outs in the bottom of the last inning and Texas clinging to a 9-7 lead. It landed safely in his glove.
"So on ESPN they said, 'Farney's got it,'" he related. "I waved my hands as far as I could and yelled (for the catch). And Matt had kicked off his shoes, and Michael Resnick had thrown his glove. So if I had dropped that ball we definitely would have lose that game.
"That has to be my favorite memory," he said.
Matt is Matt Luna, one of his teammates on that Senior Little League team from Texas and also one of his teammates on the Houston Heat Black team that's playing in the WWBA Underclass tournament. Michael Resnick was another member of the Senior Little League champs who's playing for the Houston Heat. So were Travis Gauntt and Cameron Neal, although Neal played in only one game in the World Series.
All five of those guys have played together for years, many of them since they were young kids. They feel that's one of the reasons they won the Senior Little League title. They knew each other and knew they had a strong club.
"We've been together since we were 9, so we knew our talent and what we had," said Resnick, who slugged four home runs in the World Series to set a record.
"They had a pool out in left field that noone had ever hit the ball into before," he said. "And I hit one into the pool, and they said that's the first time anyone had ever done that."
That ball, a grand slam, traveled 425 feet.
The Senior Little League World Series, which is affiliated with the regular Little League World Series that's played in Williamsport, Pa., every year, is for players who are sophomores in high school or younger, so it's essentially a 16-and-under tournament. The Senior Little League World Series is a tough tournament to win, because you have to prevail in a district tournament, a sectional tournament, a state tournament and a regional tournament before advancing to the World Series.
There were 10 teams in the World Series, and the Texans had to play their best. "Each game was a fight," said Gauntt.
The Texans lost a game to New Jersey, but it was a double-elimination tournament and they still had a chance. "Since we lost to New Jersey, we had to beat Wisconsin. Otherwise, we would have gone home," said Gauntt. "That was do-or-die for us."
They trailed early against Wisconsin, 6-1, but rallied for a 7-6 victory to stay alive.
The Texans said they had a great time in Maine, and not just on the field or in the winner's circle. Luna remembers all the fun they had at the hotel. Good, clean fun.
"We got to hang out with the guys from the other teams," he said. "It was pretty friendly there. There wasn't any big rivalry or anything. It was just fun. The camaraderie."
There were six teams from the United States in the tournament, along with clubs from Aruba, Italy, Canada and the Philippines.
Some of the players on the West University Senior Little League all-star team have been playing together since they were 7 or 8 years old.
"We knew we had something special from Day 1, just from the chemistry and the results on the field," said Farney, thinking back about 10 years. "The first tournament we ever played, we won. We beat everybody."
Neal, Gauntt, Resnick, Luna and Farney are all high school juniors now in Houston. Neal attends St. John's, Gauntt is at Episcopal, Resnick goes to Westside, while Luna and Farney attend Lamar.
Farney said all the players on the Senior Little League champions came from a compact area in Houston, which he estimated at two square miles. "We're just really focused on baseball," he said.
 Farney has watched the tape of the World Series championship game about 12 times. Every time, he catches the ball for the final out. And every time, he can't figure out where it went.
"I should have kept it," he said.
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