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Daily Journal
     July 27, 2021      #72-208 KDJ

BB Little League wins 12-year-old sectional title,

By Mason Schweizer

Bradley-Bourbonnais Little League’s Liam Martin was called the team’s motivator by teammate Nick Pignatiello after the team won Monday’s Illinois Little League Sectional 3 12-year-old championship against Jackie Robinson West. For Pignatiello, the reason Martin gets the team going is pretty simple.

“He hits dingers,” Pignatiello said.

Martin hit arguably the biggest dinger of his Little League life Monday, when he deposited a behemoth of a grand slam deep past the left field fence at Slater Field in Bourbonnais that highlighted a wild, nine-run third inning that propelled the team to an 11-3 victory to advance to the Illinois Little League State Tournament.

“I was just looking for anything to hit,” Martin said of his big drive. “I got a good hit and scored us some runs; I felt really confident after that because we were up by a lot.”

Martin also excelled on the mound Monday, allowing an early earned run in the second but limited Jackie Robinson West to just the lone run on three hits and nine strikeouts in four stellar innings on the bump.

For Bradley-Bourbonnais coach Wes Andrews, the team’s success starts with Martin, but it’s the depth of the squad that brought a sectional title to the same group of kids who were crowned Illinois state champs in 2019.

“We’ve got an elite talent in Liam Martin, and we have 12 other terrific, terrific ballplayers,” Andrews said. “From 1-13, the kids coming off the bench all had multiple hits in multiple games [of the tournament], so to have that much depth, top-end talent and the fact this group has played together since they were 7 years old, they’re just comfortable around their peers and their coaches.”

JRW struck first on an RBI single in the bottom of the second, but Bradley-Bourbonnais bounced right back with its ginormous inning that gave Martin plenty of breathing room on the mound.

Martin helped his own cause by starting the rally with a double to drive in Pignatiello before Noah Drake drove Martin in with a single of his own to give Bradley-Bourbonnais a lead it would maintain.

But things were just getting started, as Drake scored on an error two batters later. After a fielder’s choice, Gaige Brown laid down a nifty bunt and dashed quickly down the line to force a hurried, errant throw that loaded the bases. After RBI walks issued to Tyler Leitelt and Pignatiello, Martin came to the dish with the bases juiced and took the first pitch he saw for a ride and put the game out of reach.

For Martin and his teammates, the fact this is the team’s last year of Little League baseball together is what gave them the extra juice they needed Monday.

“This could be our last time together,” Martin said. “So, I just thought it was really important we just move on as far as we can.”

That was a common sentiment among players, coaches, parents and fans Monday. For Andrews, whose son, Nolan, is an infielder on the team, the family tradition of playing on Slater Field and for Bradley-Bourbonnais is a prideful one.

“I played on this field, and one of my coaches played on this field, and we take a lot of pride in it. So, to see my boy out here getting to play on the same field — this is his last game; he won’t play another one on this field — it’s sentimental. But what a way to go out.”

The team is done playing on Slater Field, but the group will be back at it at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Olney at Frost Field in Paris. As the team that won the state championship for its age group in 2019, coincidentally against the same Jackie Robinson West squad it topped Monday, the group is going in with major league confidence as it looks to defend the state crown.

“All of us together, when we’re playing our game, there’s not many teams that can stand a chance,” Drake said.

Now, as 12-year-olds, Bradley-Bourbonnais has a chance to make it past the state level, something the kids are hoping to accomplish before they return to school in the fall.

“We play well as a team, and we have a lot of confidence we can go far,” Martin said. “We’ll see what happens.”

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