Sunday, August 10, 2014

Taney Youth Baseball is Headed to Williamsport

Courtesy of Paul Alesse,
Commentary by John Malone


There's not much else to say about the Taney Youth Baseball Association and its rise to the Little League World Series.

I heard about this team during its run through districts because they knocked off the 10-year old state champions, Media. The immediate though was, "Cool. We don't get to see city teams do well in Little League too often." Then, I started reading up on the team. I started following Taney's games on GameChanger. The Dragons looked like a team of destiny, but they didn't thoroughly dominate everyone. In a state as tough as Pennsylvania to get through, it was easy to think they'd be tripped up somewhere.

They made it to the state tournament with powerful teams. Everyone in the area, and a few more who follow the blog, knew that they had Mo'Ne Davis and that she supposedly had some talent. Between the big bats of Red Land, the dominance of Collier Township, the coaching of Mike Mussina and Montoursville, there was no way I wasn't going to take the chance to drive over two hours from home in New York to see the first day or two of the Pennsylvania State Tournament.

I immediately was blown away by most of the teams at Lower Perkiomen Little League. I hadn't seen a ton of baseball admittedly this year, but two or three teams looked worthy of a regional run. I wasn't sure if Taney was even one of them that first day, a 9-3 victory over Clarion, with Mo'Ne on the mound and not showing great command.

I heard about her being the best pitcher in the state of Pennsylvania in the news. I heard about her throwing 70 miles per hour. What I saw in just a couple innings didn't support that. It certainly didn't feel that way when I saw Jared Sprague-Lott, her own teammate, throw and the big arms of Kai Cummings and Joe Richardson. Boy.. or should I say, girl was I wrong.

I got to see Mo'Ne pitch against the defending regional champions during pool play with four very good hitters back with Williamsport experience. She completely dominated for five innings. She was throwing harder than I remembered. She had command of all her pitches, and wow her swagger was on point. Nothing bothered her. Meanwhile, the boys in the batters box did not look comfortable at all. She was lights out.

She allowed two home runs in the sixth inning of that game against Delaware. Then, she picked up the save in the semifinal against Colonie, New York, but gave up a two-run homer in the process. That plus seeing her for six innings earlier in the week should've erased any mental edge she had over Delaware and based on the swings I saw in the championship it did. It also didn't matter. She flat out dominated the game once again on the back of her talent and watched her cool and calm defense make play after play until the final double play ended the game.

I didn't buy into the Taney hype in the beginning. There were murmurs about the kids being from all over Philadelphia. They're not. They're from a couple neighborhoods in and around Center City. They all go to the schools in the same area and they've all been playing Taney Youth Baseball (plus their various travel ball including the NJ Arsenal and Anderson Monarchs) for years together. After seeing them play for three weeks and getting to know parents and players. I bought in.

Taney is a team. They have table setters at the top. They have two big time starting pitchers with a crafty reliever along with two powerful right arms in the pen. They are scary hitters throughout the lineup especially the murderers row of Jahli Hendricks, Sprague-Lott, and Zion Spearman, and they have a defense that doesn't make many mistakes. They could easily go two-and-out in Williamsport or they could find themselves in the U.S. Championship game. The rest of the road doesn't matter. They reached the promised land and it was unreal to watch.

I enjoyed meeting everyone from every team in Bristol this year. The success of this blog has made it a lot of fun to hear from players, coaches, and parents every day on the Road to Williamsport. The Taney kids are a big part of that. When Taney gets the bulk of the media coverage in Williamsport just remember that it has nothing to do with the kids or even their adults. It's the culture we live in. Just have fun with it. I'm telling you this group is worth watching and getting to know.

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