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‘These young men are heroes’: Jackie Robinson West wins do-or-die game

Fans Jackie RobinsWest All Stars gather Jackie RobinsPark game watch broadcast their Little League World Series game Monday August 18

Fans of the Jackie Robinson West All Stars gather in Jackie Robinson Park game to watch a broadcast of their in Little League World Series game on Monday, August 18, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 20, 2014 6:28AM

Moments after the Jackie Robinson West Little league team won a clutch do-or-die game at a Pennsylvania ballpark Monday night, an on-edge hometown crowd watching at the team’s Morgan Park field exploded in celebration.

“These young men are heroes. Who thought a bunch of kids from 11 to 13 years old would be the heroes this city needs?” said Kenny McReynolds, who hosts a WCIU sports show but used to play baseball at the South Side field where Monday’s game was shown on a jumbo screen.

But while some in the crowd danced and sang along to music blasting from loudspeakers, Kayla Edward was more introspective.

“This is like the pearl in the shell: You never know when you are going to find one,” said Edward, 47. “It’s positive news after we had lots of violence this summer.”

In the runup to the Little League World Series, the hopes of fans and a heavy dose of media coverage put a lot of pressure on the young players. In the face of Chicago’s reputation for violence, many latched onto the positive story about a team of young black kids from the South Side who earned recognition for their efforts on the field.

But after one exhilarating win last week, the team was on the ropes following Sunday’s 13-2 loss to Mountain Ridge of Las Vegas.

That had some in the crowd nervous on Monday night after the team surrendered a commanding lead to the Cumberland American All Stars from Rhode Island. A loss would have sent the Chicago boys home.

“You can’t forget they’re 12-year-old kids,” Todd Prince, who coaches a Jackie Robinson West peewee team, said during the game. “There were a lot of stories, Instagrams and tweets. Maybe that loss brought them back down and they can focus on what the job is.”

Focus they did. After several close innings, the team pulled one run ahead. Furrowed brows reverted back to smiles and the festive atmosphere returned.

Later, some fans said the close game made the victory sweeter.

But Joseph Haley, whose father founded the league, said he would expect no less from a scrappy Chicago team.

“They are going to hustle and they are going to fight, no matter what,” Haley said. “That’s Chicago, a blue-collar city.”

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