WESTFIELD, Mass. — Nine players on Fargo’s now undefeated 13U baseball team were one game away from making it to the Little League World Series last summer.
The majority of the team, now named the Fargo Dirt Dawgs, lost in last year’s Midwest Region championship to a team from Iowa — a tournament they practiced or played 58 out of the 60 days before in which to prepare.
The loss was everything.
"It hurt quite a bit," Dirt Dawgs head coach Mike Rerick said. "We put everything into it last year. We dangled that carrot of going to the Little League World Series in front of them for two or three years. They were pretty heartbroken."
13u WORLD SERIES UPDATE:
FARGO DIRT DAWGS: 13
MERIDIAN, MS: 5
FARGO moves to 4-0 in pool play, and has secured the #1 Seed going into bracket play--More importantly, the DIRT DAWGS have earned a bye into the Semifinals on Wednesday.
Next game: Wednesday @ 4:30pm EST VS. TBD pic.twitter.com/L8Y5Nb23BM
13u WORLD SERIES UPDATE:
It would’ve been easy for the players to give up after last year’s regional tournament, but they weren’t satisfied with how it ended. The Dirt Dawgs resumed practice in early December, Rerick said, and made a pact with each other that they would work toward their one unfinished goal — a trip to the Babe Ruth World Series in Westfield, Mass.
Now, the undefeated Dirt Dawgs may be on their way to a World Series title.
The Dirt Dawgs, who are 54-0 for the season, are the No. 1 seed for the tournament in Westfield. The 13U team went 4-0 in pool play at the World Series tournament and earned a bye into the semifinals.
"In baseball, I don’t care how good a team is, you shouldn’t have a record like that," Rerick said. "It’s almost impossible."
The Dirt Dawgs will play a Janesville, Wis., team at 4:30 p.m. (EST) Wednesday, Aug. 14, in the semifinals, for the second time this tournament. They beat Janesville 10-2 in the third game of pool play on Aug. 11.
Tommy Simon, a second baseman on the team, said Wednesday’s game against Janesville will be "huge."
"I’m a little nervous, honestly, but I know we can pull it off," Simon said.
Last year’s outcome pushed the Dirt Dawgs to be better, Simon said.
"We know we can do it. (The loss) was definitely one of the team’s biggest motivators," Simon added.
The loss played into how the team practiced, too. After a few months off following last season, the Dirt Dawgs always had 100% attendance when they resumed practice in December.
"These kids have bought into our system on fundamentals," Rerick said. "We’ve got some amazing athletes on this team, but athletes don’t mean you’re going to be a good baseball player. Baseball is one of those sports where it’s all about fundamentals."
Rerick said the Dirt Dawgs are a team in every facet.
"If the bats aren’t working one day, our pitchers will step up and throw a shutout," Rerick said. "We've been fortunate enough where in all these games, the other areas have been able to pick up where we’ve been faltering. And obviously a little luck doesn’t hurt, too."
The team landed in Westfield on Aug. 6, which is about an hour and a half drive from Boston. Other than a few days, they’ve been on the road since July 15. The travel is wearing on them, Rerick said.
Heading into the semifinals, Rerick said he’s not going to scout any of the other teams.
"It’s baseball," Rerick said. "And we’ve seen all the teams already. All we have to do is go out and play the game."