August 11, 2014

Reporter: “What’s your signature pitch?”
Mo’ne Davis: “Strike.”

You know I like to give you a feel-good story when I can find 'em, and I kind of suspect this one will be headed to a theater near you.

First of all, It was an amazing game and a delight for any baseball fan. I was glued to ESPN2 as Taney ace Mon'ne Davis, who has a 70 mph fastball and is a role model for baseball-loving girls of all ages, pitched a shutout and a complete game. Twitter lit up as the word got out and Philly cheered the victory:


Taney won the title with aggressive baserunning and mistake-free fielding. The Dragons gave themselves an early cushion with four first-inning runs, each manufactured on the base paths.

The final run of the inning demonstrated the scope of Taney's dominance. Zion Spearman danced off third base after a low-and-outside pitch to Kai Cummings. When Newark catcher Joseph Rinarelli tossed the ball back to pitcher A.J. Blanchard, Spearman bolted for home. He slid in just before the tag.

Newark National spent the two days before the game preparing for Mo'ne Davis, but it was of little use. The first-inning runs were all she needed. She pitched a shutout, allowing three hits. By the time Davis allowed Newark's first hit in the third inning, Taney already had a 6-0 lead. She struck out six batters in the game.

Davis will be the first American girl to play in Williamsport since 2004. She downplayed her personal accomplishment, but her pitching performance on national television showed that gender is no barrier.

"More girls should join boys' teams so it could be a tradition and it wouldn't be so special," she said.

A stout Taney defense sealed the win. Jared Sprague-Lott made several difficult plays at shortstop and Eli Simon caught two high fly balls in left field in the fourth inning. Taney did not commit an error in the game.

The game fittingly ended on a perfectly executed double play, then the celebration began.

Afterward, Taney's players said the win was about more than baseball. For one thing, it means new uniforms, no small matter to Taney's players. The players shouted in joy after the game in the Little League Recreation Center when they saw the new gear they will wear in Williamsport, emblazoned with the words "Mid-Atlantic" across the chest. It was another sign that they are champions.

The origins of Taney's players added meaning to the win. They nodded in unison when asked if the win meant more because they are the first team from Philadelphia to reach the Little League World Series. Many of the players murmured about the stereotypes related to inner-city kids and baseball.

"It means a lot," second baseman Jahli Hendricks said. "In the beginning, a lot of people were a little bit doubting us and criticizing us."

The stereotypes are now irrelevant. The bus to Williamsport leaves Monday morning.

The kids play it down, but they've gotten racist comments from other teams. Well, winning is the best revenge!

Mo'ne, who's been playing since she was seven, doesn't even want to play major league baseball. She loves basketball and wants to play for UConn, and then the NBA.

Baseball blog The Good Phight writes:

This wasn't supposed to happen, on so many levels.

A team from Philadelphia that was playing in the official Little League tournament for the first time wasn't supposed to become state champs against veteran powerhouses from other parts of the state.

A big city team wasn't supposed to dominate against mostly well-funded and well-oiled suburban machines in the regional tournament.

A 12 year old girl wasn't supposed to look like the second coming of Roy Halladay (or, her favorite player, Clayton Kershaw) in the finals against a team that was in the World Series last year.

And baseball fans from Philadelphia weren't supposed to be going to bars and house parties on a Sunday night in August to watch 12 year olds they don't know play baseball.

But all of these things happened, and it was beyond glorious. Philadelphia has a baseball team this summer that it can be proud of. And the nation has a baseball hero they can root for with unadulterated joy.

The team is the Taney Dragons and the hero is Mo'ne Davis. Tonight, the Dragons destroyed the Newark National, and Mo'ne Davis was most of the reason why.

In the final game of the regional championship, she was as unflappable as Cliff Lee on the mound. She came out firing, throwing her 70mph fastball (from 46 feet, the equivalent of a 95pmh major league fastball) and her knee-buckling curveball for strikes. The Newark hitters were helpless against her.

Imagine yourself in her shoes. She was on national television. She was starting the regional championship game. She was the only girl left in the tournament in the entire country. She was facing the regional champs from last year. And she did nothing but shut them out on three hits, three walks, and six strikeouts. Really, only one of the hits was a hard one - a double down the third base line. The others were a bloop single between the infield and outfield and a grounder that just went over her head and into center field. Otherwise, she was as dominant as anyone could have wished for in such a high stakes game. It was amazing to watch.

Because this is an inner-city team, they're asking for donations to cover the trip to Williamsport. You can donate here.

Taney's first game is Friday at 3 p.m. EST against South Nashville on ESPN2.

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