Coach Matt Hickey admits he’s rarely surprised but often amazed by the feats of his River Forest 12u Little League team.
“These kids believe in themselves and they’re really talented and work really hard,” Hickey told the West Cook News after his team rallied from a 6-0 deficit against Tri-Cities on Sunday to emerge as 2019 Little League State champions with a 7-6 win in extra innings, earning the team its second straight state title.
River Forest, a perfect 9-0 on the season, now advances to the Great Lakes Regionals in Westfield, Indiana, where the winner will earn a spot in the double-elimination Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The team opens play Sunday, Aug. 4, against Glendale, Wisconsin, with the game slated to be streamed on ESPN+ starting at noon. The regional also includes teams from Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan.
Trailing Tri-Cities 6-0 after four innings, it took all Hickey and company had to get there.
After scratching out three runs in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit in half, River Forest had three straight hitters reach base when down to their last strike. Luke Hickey, Ben Jarnecke and A.J. Kilburg all had run-scoring hits that knotted the game at 6-6. In the seventh, Spike Gall doubled home Jimmy O’Brien, who had reached on a single, to make the comeback complete.
“That’s something the kids have to have inside them,” Hickey added of their ability to deliver in the clutch. “Last year, three of our four wins at the State Tournament were come from behind. We’re a really resilient bunch and before every game we talk about taking what we want.”
Jack Paris came on to pitch the final two innings against Tri-Cities to get the win. Now in his third season as head coach, Hickey has led River Forest to its first 12u state title in 67 years and first back-to-back state titles in history.