There will be no chance at a return to glory for the Elk-McKean All-Star baseball team.
Little League — which also oversees Junior and Senior League baseball — announced on April 30 that the World Series and regional tournaments set for this summer are canceled due to COVID-19. On Sunday, Pennsylvania’s Association of District Administrators for Little League announced that all statewide tournaments would be off the table, as well.
The announcements bring an abrupt end to one of the area’s most successful teams, the Elk-McKean All-Stars, who two years ago reached the Junior League World Series and last year reached the Senior League Eastern Regional finals before falling 9-8 to Delaware.
This summer would have been the team’s final chance at returning to the World Series level before much of the roster would have aged out of Little League entirely.
“There’s certainly some disappointment, but as things have been going, we kind of had an idea of what might come,” coach Casey Zimmerman said. “The kids, I’m sure, are let down. They had high hopes this year and had a taste of success over the last couple years, and they were determined to go back and have another good season.”
THE TEAM, comprised of players from Kane, Wilcox, Johnsonburg and Ridgway, made its initial rise to prominence during the 2018 Junior League All-Star tournaments. After advancing through the section and district rounds, E-M took the rest of the Keystone State by storm, advancing through the first two rounds of the state championship tourney by scores of 14-3 over Upper Moreland and 7-0 over Sayre.
In the semis, Elk-McKean toppled Abington, 6-4, and then met Abington again in the championship round of the double-elimination tournament. The second time around, E-M cruised to a 12-4 win and a state title.
“As we went into each tournament, we kept winning game by game, and it became more of a reality and we found a recipe for success and just went with it,” Zimmerman said. “It was nice to see the kids mature and not be intimidated by other teams and to grow in confidence and play to the best of their abilities.”
The success didn’t stop there.
In the Eastern Regional — the tournament to decide which teams make the World Series — the PA state champs topped the host New Jersey team, 4-0, and then defeated Maryland in a shootout, 19-11.
From there, things tightened up. Elk-McKean toppled the other New Jersey team in the tournament in an extra-inning thriller, 6-5, to advance to the championship, and then edged Delaware, 3-2, for the regional title and a trip to the Junior League World Series.
“The kids had that dream for a long time,” Zimmerman said of reaching the highest point of Junior League baseball. “To actually see it come true, it was something special. One of the memories I’ll take away from this experience was receiving the World Series uniforms. The players were so excited and it was so special to see them put it on. That’ll stick in my brain for the rest of my life.”
AT THE World Series, held in Taylor, Mich., the team fell 2-1 to the Western Regional champions from Manhattan Beach, Calif., before upending the Southeastern team from Georgia, 7-6, to stay alive.
However, the dream ended for E-M a round later in a 5-3 loss to the Central champions from Chicago.
Still, the hope was there that the team could compete for another trip to the World Series stage a year later at the Senior League level. The team retained much of its roster between seasons, but would face a tougher challenge in moving up an age group.
“We definitely had the confidence to know that we were a team that could compete and go back (to the World Series),” Zimmerman said. “Having a younger group like we did, though, we weren’t sure what type of competition we would run into, but as we got into the state tournament, we saw that we were right there with the other teams.”
The E-M sluggers certainly proved their mettle.
The team won another state title last summer with an 8-3 victory over Hollidaysburg to cap another undefeated Pennsy tournament.
However, a year after topping Delaware in the Junior League Eastern Regional, Elk-McKean’s foes from the coast got their revenge with a 3-1 decision that sent E-M into the loser’s bracket.
Despite the early setback, Elk-McKean battled its way through the rest of the double elimination tournament, often in dramatic one-run wins, and into the championship round where it once again faced Delaware.
“Losing that first game was a big challenge, but the kids showed so much character and determination to fight their way back,” Zimmerman said.
That string of narrow wins came to an end, though, as Elk-McKean found itself on the other end of such a decision in a 9-8 extra-inning championship loss to Delaware.
Still, with its roster from that 2019 run still intact, hopes were high ahead of the Summer of 2020 for E-M to make its return both to the regional final and eventually the Senior League World Series. Now, that is all for naught.
“We didn’t make our overall goal of the World Series (in 2019), but we walked away with our heads high, and that motivated the team for this season,” Zimmerman said. “The kids were in the gym on Sundays on top of their winter sports to train for this season. They were ready to work hard, and that makes it a little bit harder seeing it come to an end, because we were a mature team this year, and I’m pretty sure we would’ve gone pretty far.”
IN A farewell Facebook post to players and fans, assistant coach Mike Porter noted that the team finished with a 27-5 record and outscored its opponents, 268-126. In all, the team traveled 3,402 miles between tournaments, and took home a pair of district championships, a sectional title, two state titles and a regional championship, in addition to making a Junior League World Series appearance.
“I want to thank the players and fans both for giving not just me, but the other coaches, their best. It’s been some of the most exciting years of our lives,” Zimmerman said. “The fans, not just from Wilcox, Johnsonburg, Kane and Ridgway, but from the surrounding areas, and local newspapers and media, they supported us the whole way and it’s been a magical ride.
“I hate to see it end like this, but it’s out of our hands. These kids have bright futures, and they’ll continue to play ball well no matter what team they’re on.”