PITTSFIELD -- When the Pittsfield Babe Ruth 15-year old All-Stars left New England behind for the World Series in Van Buren, Ark., they were also leaving behind foes that might not have been familiar, but the level of play was.
Getting to Arkansas proved to be a surprise for manager Bob Shade and his players, but maybe not quite in the way they all thought.
"At first, we thought they were going to be a lot bigger than us. We realized that a lot of the teams were the same as us," said Pittsfield second baseman Alex Carusotto. "Every game was going to be a close game. There weren't going to be any blowouts. We didn't realize that all the teams were going to be that close in competition."
In five games at the tournament, Pittsfield went 3-2 and was 3-1 in pool play. The Pittsfield nine lost twice in the tournament, both games by one run.
"We can definitely play with the best teams in the country," said first baseman/pitcher Bobby New. "We can stick with them. Both games we lost, we lost by one run.
"They were great teams out there, but we can definitely hang with them."
Southeastern Lexington (Ky.) won the World Series championship, beating Brazoswood (Texas) 7-0 on Saturday. Aaron McGeorge struck out seven and tossed a complete-game, four-hit shutout in the victory.
Pittsfield lost in the first game of elimination play. El Segundo (Calif.) beat Pittsfield 5-4, but El Segundo then fell to the eventual champions 2-1.
"We did watch the championship game," Pittsfield center fielder Chad Shade said. "We knew that we could have been in there. We felt like we were the best team in that tournament. We felt like, even though we didn't make it to the championship, it was a successful year."
That 2-1 score also showed up in the semifinal of the other bracket where Brazoswood beat Niskayuna (N.Y.) 2-1. Like Southeastern Lexington, Niskayuna had a first-round bye due to winning the National Division pool. Pittsfield finished second in the pool.
The Pittsfield All-Stars returned home on Sunday, getting a police escort from the city line to the First Street Common, where they were met by family and friends.
Each player has had three days to ponder the tournament and how it played out. They all found some surprises.
"We thought like teams from Texas and California were going to be 6-foot-5 and throwing 90 miles an hour," said Carusotto. "That's not the case."
Shade, who was named the Pittsfield MVP in the elimination game against El Segundo, said the competition was even better than he might have imagined.
"Everybody was a good team. They were all well-coached. The El Segundo team that we lost to in the last game, never stopped fighting. They played all seven innings," said Shade, "and they ended up on top."
Dom Traversa played every inning behind the plate for Pittsfield and he had an easy answer to the biggest change between the district, state or New England levels of play.
"The biggest difference was definitely the pitching," Traversa said. "You see us in all the other tournaments, we were scoring like 10 runs or more. Now we went down. I think the most runs we scored were nine.
"The pitching was definitely a lot better so that's what we had to adjust to. Instead of big hits, we were going for base hits."
Now home, the Pittsfield players and coaches realize that they accomplished their goal and then some.
"Our first thing was to win districts. We didn't get there last year," said Traversa. "Then going all the way, winning states and the New England tournament, that was unbelievable. Our main goal was to win districts."
The Pittsfield players scattered from the Common to go home and get some rest. The rest won't be long for many of them, because they'll be reporting for their high school sport practices today. Practice has already been going on for a week.
"After that last game, it was tough to believe" the baseball run was over, said Shade. "I've been playing with some of these guys since I was nine years old, some since I was 13 or 14. We've been a family for such a long time. It's hard to believe that everything came to an end."