Northern heads home Monday

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 29, 2010 

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Jalen Latta had a little unfinished business.

The Northern centerfielder had already had a big week at the Little League World Series.

He had pitched for the first time since the regular season and made a sliding catch Thursday night in a loss to Hawaii that landed him on ESPN SportsCenter as one of the day’s top plays.

But his week was not complete.

About an hour after Northern was eliminated from the tournament by Waipahu, Hawaii, Friday afternoon, Latta was talking to his buddy Zac Cravens.

“Zac, we got to go slide down the hill,” Latta said.

The hill is just behind the Lamade Stadium outfield fence, and Latta had been watching other kids all week sliding down the hill on cardboard boxes.

Latta and his teammates have had a ride of their own, finishing as one of the top eight Little League Baseball teams in the world.

Manager Randy Morris will keep his players in Williamsport, Pa., to watch today’s world championship game between Hawaii and Japan . They’ll return to Columbus on Monday.

“We’ll ride this thing out for a few more days,” Morris said.

Maybe the accomplishments — winning the district, state and regional champions — will start to sink in for these 12- and 13-year-old boys.

The parents understand what their sons have done. Ask pitcher Troy Gilliland’s dad, Toby. He got to watch his son throw nine scoreless innings in World Series competition.

“We were at dinner the other night and Troy said this didn’t feel any different,” Toby Gilliland said. “I just said, ‘Son, you don’t understand how big this is and what it means down the road.’ I don’t think it has dawned on him how big this is and what this experience will mean to him the rest of his life.”

After it was over, catcher Blake Hicks was being consoled by his mother.

“How long will this hurt?” Stacey Hicks asked as she hugged her son. “A couple of days. It probably won’t last longer because they are 12 years old.”

For almost two weeks the players were in a world centered on baseball. They were treated like big-leaguers, given new bats, shoes, batting gloves and a lot of other stuff.

“I really liked all the free stuff,” Jack Copley said.

Friday morning, Jalen’s father, Jerry Latta, was half asleep in his hotel room when he saw his son’s diving catch make the cut for the day’s best on ESPN.

“I called my brother and told him to tape it,” he said.

It will be a memory Jalen can treasure for years.

He didn’t find out about the highlight honor until after the game Friday.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Jalen said.

It will be years before this hits them, Stacey Hicks said.

“They are 12 years old,” she said. “It will take them until they are adults to truly understand what they have accomplished.”

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