SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — When the Big Sky All-Stars take to the field Wednesday night at the Little League World Series, they will see some familiar faces.
The boys from Billings will play their 6 p.m. MDT semifinal game in Lamade Stadium against their new friends from California, the Oceanview All-Stars from Huntington Beach.
The Big Sky All-Stars, the Northwest Region champs, meet the West Region champs in a battle of the final two undefeated American teams.
The winner of the matchup will play Saturday in the U.S. championship game. The loser will play an elimination game Thursday, with the winner of that game playing in Saturday’s title game. Saturday’s victor will play for the world championship Sunday against the winner of the international bracket.
What makes this game so interesting is that the members of the two teams are friends. They met when both played at their respective regionals at the same site in San Bernardino, Calif.
They stayed in the same dormitory, separated only by a door. Then they found something they had in common, said Big Sky player Pearce Kurth.
“They had a flat-screen TV and an Xbox and we hung out with them a lot,” Pearce said. “We just kind of hung out and talked.”
The California team was able to bring along a 50-inch TV and the video-game player because the players live only 30 minutes from the San Bernardino complex.
That provided a good conversation starter for the two teams. And things just built from there, Big Sky catcher Andy Maehl said.
“They’re really cool, and they’re fun to hang out with,” he said.
“They were easygoing and they were fun to hang out with,” third baseman and pitcher Sean Jones added.
The two teams cheered for each other during the games in San Bernardino. The boys also shared a dream, Big Sky left-fielder Ben Askelson said.
“We always talked about how awesome it would be to both go to Williamsport together and fly on the plane together,” Ben said.
Amazingly, that dream came true. On Wednesday, they will take the dream one step further and step onto the same playing field.
“I know they’re going to try to do their best even though they’re friends,” Big Sky manager Gene Carlson said. “They’re just going to do their thing, like they have every other day.”
Jeff Pratto, manager of the California team, said he thinks some of the friendship will show up during the game.
“There will be a lot of laughing, probably, at each other on the field,” he said. “It’ll be loose.”
He liked what he saw in San Bernardino.
“We just got used to cheering for each other and we both got to the top there, and it was really cool,” he said.
Both teams know what’s at stake Wednesday.
The Oceanview All-Stars’ record in the playoffs is 22-1, and Big Sky has a record of 19-1. California, favored as one of the top teams, has won two shutout games in the World Series, including a 10-0 game Sunday against the North Oldham All-Stars from LeGrange, Ky.
Big Sky won its most recent game Sunday, 3-1, against the Southwest Region champs, the All-Stars from Lafayette, La.
On Tuesday, the two teams practiced on adjoining fields inside the Little League World Series grounds.
Pratto, the California manager, said many of the boys on his team have played together from as far back as T-ball. Two of the players, Jagen Danner and the coach’s son Nick Pratto, played on last year’s Oceanview team that went to the finals of the Western Region before losing to Hawaii.
The Hawaii team eventually made it to the world championship game in South Williamsport, losing to Japan.
Pratto called the team’s most recent victory “a complete victory on both sides of the plate, pitching, hitting and no errors,” adding that it was a win against another good team.
Carlson is pleased with the way his team has played. He and the other two coaches have spent the past couple of days working with the team during practice.
He’s also let the boys rest up and given them time with their families and on the grounds to watch other teams play. Wednesday night, it will be time for a game between friends and competitors.
“They’re good guys and they’re excellent coaches, and they have a great team and we expect them to play a good game,” Carlson said.
Pratto said winning is the goal, but he had another thought about all the teams in the World Series — and about Wednesday’s game.
“I still do think that everyone’s a champion here, and once you’re here, it’s just gravy,” he said. “But I think it will be pretty fun tomorrow.”