By Thomas Grant Jr.
“It’s been surreal.”
That was Irmo Little League Seniors team head coach Pete von Ahn’s description of his team’s historic season.
This All-Star group of players from Lexington-Richland District Five high schools Chapin, Dutch Fork and Spring Hill reached unchartered territory for the seven-year-old program.
Not only did the Irmo Seniors go 3-0 to win the state tournament for the third time since 2018 but rallied out of the loser’s bracket to claim its first-ever Southeast Regional title.
During the Regional, Irmo shattered the tournament record with 18 home runs. At least eight players hit a home run and 13 players pitched during this All-Star tournament run.
Making the achievement even more “surreal” was the team’s reward. They received an invitation to compete in the Senior League Baseball World Series in Easley – a feat never previously accomplished by an Irmo Little League or South Carolina-based team.
As an added plus, Irmo had a first-round bye and started play on Sunday. It opened play against the host team which won 3-2 a day earlier.
It was déjà vu at the expense of Irmo as it fell by the same score on a walk off RBI single by Grayson Austin.
Easley took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st inning on an RBI single by Kade Scruggs. Irmo tied the game in the top of the third inning as Coleman Fryer singled home Raleigh Salters.
Scruggs drove in his second run of the game in the bottom half of the inning with a single to make it 2-1. Irmo loaded the bases in the top of the fourth inning and Reese Jolley hit into a double play to Charlie Meija of Chapin High School to score the tying run.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh inning. Jasean Perry hit a leadoff single, stole second and scored as Austin’s single to rightfield went past a charging Luke Becker.
The next day, Irmo had to wait out a two-hour weather delay before playing its elimination game versus Texas (Weslaco).
Starting pitcher Candler Morden put Irmo up 1-0 in the first inning with the first of his two RBI singles.
Weslaco loaded the bases in the bottom of the second inning. After Mejia replaced Morden facing a 2-0 count and gave up a 2-run double to put Weslaco up 2-1.
Irmo answered with two runs of its own in the top of the third inning. Leadoff hitter Boykin Bickley reaches first base on a dropped third strike and goes to third on Brian Johnson’s single.
Salters sent a sacrifice fly to centerfield to score Bickley and tie the game. With two outs, Morden hit an infield single to score Johnson and give Irmo the lead.
Mejia held Weslaco scoreless over four innings and struck out six. In the bottom of the seventh, he gave up a leadoff walk and infield bunt single.
Alexander Townley replaced Mejia and recorded an out on a sacrifice bunt. He then gave up an RBI single that tied the game and was replaced by Smith.
The next batter sent a sacrifice fly to rightfield caught by Luke Becker. His throw arrived in time to Morden, but he was unable to secure the ball as the runner slid across home plate to win the game.
Becker’s older brother, University of South Carolina pitcher Matthew Becker, played on the 2019 team that had the previous best finish for the program in the Southeast Regional as a runner-up. Von Ahn’s eldest son Petey, a base coach on the team, was also on that team.
The whole baseball operation is a family affair for the von Ahns. Wife Jenn is the Vice President of Baseball for Irmo Little League and keeps the book during games, son Ethan also helps coach and gameplan and youngest son Lucas played on the team.
Despite the heartbreaking ending, von Ahn was proud of his team’s resiliency shown throughout the summer. As Irmo Little League continues to grow in teams and players, they will look to build off this experience to make more history.