SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Over a two-week period in August, three forces of nature struck Pennsylvania: an earthquake, a hurricane and the Big Sky Little League All-Stars.
Technically, the earthquake and the hurricane just grazed the state. But the Big Sky team took the Little League World Series by a storm, The underdog team that wouldn't give up bulldozed its way through the series bracket, stopping one spot shy of playing in the Little League World Championship game.
In the process, the team made a name for itself around the United States and found its way into the hearts of people around the country.
The 12 boys that make up the Big Sky All-Stars played in 11-12 majors during the regular season on four teams in the Big Sky League, one of five in Billings. They were picked out of a pool of 42 players, chosen by fellow players, coaches and managers.
Many of the teammates already were friends. Often, their parents say, after baseball practice, the boys would hang out during the evening together and play outside. They range in age from 11 to 13, and when they start school a little late this week, eight will go to Lewis and Clark Middle School, three to elementary schools and one to St. Francis Upper.
On the practice field, the boys followed a regular routine of stretching, catching, fielding and hitting. They focused on the business at hand, taking instruction from manager Gene Carlson and coaches Tom Zimmer and Mark Kieckbusch.
But they liked their fun, too. At the World Series, they enjoyed time in the rec room, playing ping pong with each other and with players from other teams and other countries. They enjoyed swimming in a pool in the dorm area, and they went out little excursions with their parents in Williamsport, as time permitted.
The boys had another perk during their stay here, having kids walk up to them on the Little League World Series grounds and ask them for an autograph. And in interviews with ESPN or other media outlets, they had reputation as being unfailingly polite.
The team was the first ever from Montana to win the Northwest Regional Championship. While in San Bernardino, they became fast friends with the team that would be the West champions, the boys from the Ocean View Little League in Huntington Beach, Calif.
The two teams bonded over a large-screen TV and an Xbox, and they often said it would be cool if they both got to Williamsport and played each other. It seemed improbable to some, that the underdog squad from Montana would meet the powerhouse team from California.
But then Montana surprised everyone as it moved up the bracket in South Williamsport, winning games and making it all the way to the semifinal matchup against California. Montana won that first battle 1-0, but on Saturday, it lost the U.S. championship game in a rematch with the Huntington Beach team, 11-2.
Storm clouds threatened throughout the game on that warm and muggy day, as Hurricane Irene began churning its way up the Eastern coast of the U.S. It rained on the players and the crowd in Lamade Stadium, and it rained on the hopes of the Big Sky All-Stars.
The hurricane also took away the chance for the players to take part in one last game, on Sunday, against the team from Mexico in the traditional consolation game. It's only the second time in World Series history that game has been canceled, but LLWS officials worried a downpour later in the afternoon would force postponement of the championship game, so they moved the time up by three hours.
As they should, the players and coaches flew home together to Billings from Pennsylvania. It seemed fitting that what started together should end together.
The Big Sky All-Stars now will go back to their lives, school, football or other sports, friends and family. But what they accomplished this one summer will stay with them the rest of their lives, and it will live in the hearts and minds of many others.