WACO — After each round of the playoffs this summer, the Pearland Little League baseball team has taken a victory lap around the diamond.
But no jog felt any sweeter than the one the players made Thursday.
Pearland hit three home runs in overpowering Eagle Pass 5-3 in the final of the Southwestern Regional and earning a trip to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
“It hasn’t sunk in at all,” Pearland manager Mike Orlando said. “I guess we’re going, aren’t we?”
Indeed they are.
When Pearland second baseman Pryce Beshoory fielded a grounder and flipped the ball to Jorge Gutierrez at first for the final out, the entire team sprinted to the pitching mound to take part in a well-deserved celebratory dog pile.
“Once that happened, oh my gosh, my heart stopped,” said Pearland starting pitcher Beau Orlando, the manager’s nephew. “I was in heaven. This is the greatest feeling on earth right now. I’m just blessed.”
Beau Orlando put together another outstanding performance. Two days after pitching Pearland to a semifinal victory over Colorado, he came up big again, striking out seven in 42⁄3 innings and blasting a solo homer.
Orlando threw only 35 pitches Tuesday, so he was ready to go for Thursday’s final.
“He showed no nerves on Tuesday, and we figured, ‘What the heck? Let’s get him in there,’ ” Mike Orlando said.
Four hits, five runs
Pearland had been crushing the ball throughout the Southwestern Regional, averaging better than 10 runs a game, but produced only four hits against Eagle Pass.
But the boys from Brazoria County made the most of those hits, with three of them leaving the ballpark.
“We have a lot of power, but we can also hit the ball,” Gutierrez said. “I think we should have gotten a few more hits, but the home-run ball helped us a lot today.”
Pearland wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. With two on and nobody out in the top of the first inning, Gutierrez fisted an inside pitch from Eagle Pass hurler Ricardo Gonzalez over the right-field fence for a three-run shot.
Gonzalez answered with a soaring solo shot for Eagle Pass in the bottom of the inning, but Pearland had an answer for that. In the top of the second, Beau Orlando hit a two-out solo homer over the bleachers in left-center.
Pearland opened up a 5-1 lead in the top of the fifth when pinch hitter Chris Leger homered to left. Eagle Pass responded with a two-run homer from Armando Lopez in the bottom of the inning, but that’s as close as the West Texans would get.
Pearland reliever Mason Van Noort struck out three of the four batters he faced to close the game, helping set off the wild celebration.
“All that’s going through your head is, ‘We’re going to Williamsport,’ ” Gutierrez said. “It just feels really good. It’s once in a lifetime.”
LL’s ultimate stage
Since their T-ball days, many of Pearland’s team members have spent their summers playing together. To know they’re headed to Little League baseball’s biggest stage is a bit mind-boggling.
“It’s just astounding,” Leger said. “It’s so crazy to think whenever I was little I would have dreams about this. I always watched Little League games, and this is just a dream come true.”
The dream will continue Aug. 20 when the Little League World Series commences.
“They’ve been doing this together since they were 5 or 6 years old. They’re awesome,” said Mike Orlando, dripping wet after a celebratory water-cooler dousing. “I’m just glad I get to keep coaching these guys.”