'Summer of their lives': Canada leaves Little League World Series with no regrets

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Canadian Little League team that could from Whalley, B.C. ran out of big pitches and timely hits against Puerto Rico Wednesday afternoon at Volunteer Stadium, losing 9-4 and ending what's been a remarkable run for the boys from British Columbia.

It was an emotional and somewhat disappointing ending for a team that quickly became fan favourites for their great baseball and constant displays of sportsmanship.

Fittingly, after the teams shook hands at the end of the game, the 13 Canadian boys ran in front of the Puerto Rican fans, took their hats off and tipped their caps. Their parents were next, as they raced to the other side of the diamond and tipped their hats once again. Their final act was heading back to the infield to scoop up some dirt — walking away from a ballpark with a fist full of sand that will hold memories for a lifetime.

"We told the boys at the beginning of the summer this could be the summer of their lives," head coach Mike Marino said after the game.

"I think it's lived up to that and they all believe it's been the summer of their lives. I'll be honest, I don't think I've had a better summer in my life."

Watch highlights ofCanada's final game at the LLWS:

Canadian squad wins 6-4, next faces Puerto Rico in another must-win game. 1:34

Many were calling the Canadians the underdogs heading into the elimination game on Wednesday — the team didn't believe it, with their confidence bolstered by a stunning win over Mexico just two days earlier. Over the first few innings, it looked as though the Canadians might just find a way to win after all.

It was 2-1 Canada heading into the third inning. That's when Puerto Rico's power started to show. They rallied to score four in the top half of the inning.

Canada never quit though. In fact, the Whalley boys cut the Puerto Rico lead to 5-4 after Dio Gama ripped a double to the wall with the bases loaded in the bottom half of the third.

That was as close as Canada would get, with the Caribbean Region representatives adding two more runs in the fourth to increase their lead to 7-4. They never looked back.

Puerto Rico's Carlos De Jesus (17) high fives his coach as he rounds the bases on his home run against Canada in the fist inning. (Tom E. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Marino says he'll be thinking about the game for a long time and took some of the blame for the aggressive base-running which resulted in a Canadian runner being thrown out at the plate. 

"I'm sure when I go back and think about it there will be a ton of moments I'll remember but right now it's tough because we really thought we could win that game," Marino said.

Thrilling victories along the way

For as disappointed as the team is right now, the Canadians will always have two thrilling games to look back upon and remember fondly. 

In their second game of the tournament, in a must-win situation against Spain, Whalley was able to capture a heart-stopping 2-1 victory. In a game that lasted three hours and 20 minutes and went 10 innings, Joey Marino, the coach's son, hit a walk-off single up the middle. 

It sent the team and parents into a frenzy. Mike Marino said he had tears in his eyes watching his son score the winning RBI.

And nobody will ever forget Canada's stunning 6-4 victory over Mexico to also avoid elimination. With the bases loaded and two out, and the Canadians clinging to a two-run lead, pitcher Nate Colina made a sensational scooping catch to save the game. 

The team once again bolted out of the dugout and piled onto one another in the infield. The thrilling victories shined a spotlight on the Canadian team and highlighted the magic of the Little League World Series. 

Joey Marino supplied the heroics for Canada in a must win game against Spain with a walk-off single in the 10th to win 2-1. 2:45

Family affair

Above all, what the coaches, players and parents say about the Whalley Little Leaguers is that they're a family. They spent more than a month on the road together as they competed through their provincial playdowns, the national championship and the Little League World Series. 

The parents of the team stressed to their sons to always maintain grace and poise in victory and defeat — that was evident throughout, including a tip of the cap to a Mexican opponent by pitcher Zaeden Pleasants after he hit a home run off of him. 

The story of Dio Gama perhaps best of all highlights the story of Whalley. It didn't look as though the 13-year-old would be able to wear the Canadian jersey at the World Series because of immigration issues. But parents, coaches and many more rallied behind Dio and his family prompting Canada's Minister of Immigration to grant him a temporary visitor permit to play. 

Against the odds, Dio Gama walked out onto the field and played for Canada. 

The Canadian underdogs played their hearts out and did their country proud. 

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