PACKWOOD — Only one team can earn a trip to the Iowa State Little League baseball tournament.
Ottumwa American may not be that team this summer, but they didn't go down without a fight. One night after erasing a seven-run deficit in an extra-inning win over Monroe County, American erased a four-run deficit against Lucas County tying the score on a fifth-inning RBI single by Josiah Van Mannen.
Lucas County, however, had an answer scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth to grab the lead for good. American made one last run at extending its season in 12-year-old district play, putting two runners on with two outs before Jace Mitchell grounded out to short to cap a 9-7 win for Lucas County in the elimination round of the district tournament.
Lucas County faced Jefferson County in a 10-year-old, 12-year-old elimination doubleheader in Albia on Wednesday night as the Courier went to press. The squads met Sunday night at Haggland Field in Ottumwa with the Lucas County 10-year-olds winning 14-8 while the Jefferson County 12-year-olds won 6-2.
Ottumwa American, meanwhile, finished 2-2 in all-star district play, suffering a pair of two-run losses while avenging last year's district championship game loss to Appanoose County on Sunday and erasing a 10-3 deficit against Monroe County on Monday. Brayden Larkin completed the comeback on Monday with a game-tying three-run homer, helped prevent Monroe County from scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh of American's 11-10 win and hit a three-run homer Tuesday at Rambler Park to help start Ottumwa's comeback from a 7-3 deficit against Lucas County.
"We've always had each other's backs," Larkin said. "I believed in myself that I could come up with those hits. We were all on the fence cheering each time any of us were up to bat. It all just came together at the right times to keep us playing.
"It felt amazing to make a comeback like the one we made on Monday. It gave me a huge boost of confidence. I was happy that I had an opportunity to come out clutch for our team."
Lucas County, Jefferson County and Ottumwa Little League are the remaining teams in both the 10 and 12-year-old district tournaments with the opportunity to qualify for the Iowa State Little League Tournament. Ottumwa Little League will play Thursday night for the district title in Keosauqua needing just one win to advance to state.
Ottumwa American, meanwhile, will look to build on the fight put up during postseason play over the past few nights.
"These kids never stop fighting. That's the best thing about coaching with them," Ottumwa American League coach Rich Kennedy said. "This team has definitely dropped the 'me' mentality and have definitely adopted the 'we' mentality. When they do that and gets each other's back, it instills a certain amount of confidence in the batter. Instead of being a little bit timid, the batter instantly turns into a rock star.
"This team has been playing ball together since they've been 6-years-old. The chemistry has gelled up real nice and see it all come together here at the end of the season."