WORCESTER — The Wellesley South Little League All-Stars posed for pictures, their white jerseys ruffled after a long celebration, their smiles beaming underneath the bright lights of Joe Schwartz Field.
“How many teams left in the state again?” asked coach David Rosenblatt .
In unison, the 12 players around him screamed, “One!”
Wellesley South (14-1) had just beaten Acton-Boxborough in walk-off fashion, 4-3, to be the last team left standing in Massachusetts. Down one run with two out and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning Monday night, John Frates belted a bases-clearing double to win the state championship.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” said T.J. Maley, who scored the winning run from first base.
Frates looked on as a crowd of family members and friends swirled around the players on the field.
“Regionals will be better,” he said coolly.
Rosenblatt’s team traveled to Bristol, Conn., Thursday to represent the state in the East New England Regional tournament. They will play their first game on Saturday afternoon at 2 against Scarborough, Maine. The regional champion advances to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“We just have to try to keep everything the same,” Rosenblatt said. “We have to keep an even keel. We have to keep calm and just keep playing even though it’s a different level. A guy pitches, we have to hit, we have to catch, and we have to throw. It’s all the same . . . even though it’s not.”
Wellesley South’s road to the regional began long before its dramatic win on Monday. For many of the players, it began long before the summer team had been assembled.
During the winter, many of the team’s players spent their Friday nights and Sunday mornings hitting indoors at the New England Ruffnecks facility in Needham.
The Wellesley South players also received valuable experience playing against some of the best players in the state when assistant coach Blake Bentley, the father of shortstop Kaeden Bentley, started an independent travel team during the spring. Many of the summer team’s players participated, playing against local AAU teams while also finding time for their local Little League teams.
By the time Wellesley South began its summer schedule, many of the players had played together and developed a strong sense of chemistry as a result of hours shared on the diamond.
Rosenblatt said his team has had just three days off since the season began. Time off was earned in the days following Wellesley South’s district, sectional, and state final wins.
“Some of those days we’re just hitting,” Rosenblatt said. “Some days we’re having pizza parties. Some days we’re playing basketball. We keep it fun for them, but, yeah, we’ve spent a lot of time together.”
At practice, Rosenblatt has come up with different ways to keep his players engaged as they improve. To simulate the velocity of the area’s best pitchers, Rosenblatt called on older players to throw batting practice. Recent Belmont Hill graduate Eric Oberg, who will pitch at Dartmouth next spring, threw to the team before the state tournament. The Wellesley teen dialed things down to almost half-speed, but it still served a purpose.
“For them to see a big, strong, scary-looking kid up there gives them confidence,” Rosenblatt said. “It erased the fear factor, the intimidation factor of seeing some of these kids they see in games.”
Third baseman Billy Seidl, outfielder Michael Bomes, and first baseman Bo Picking have helped lead the way for South’s hot-hitting lineup. Nine of the 12 players have hit home runs, and assistant coach Matt Stein said that, at times, batting practice can get dangerous — for the coaches.
The team’s only 11-year-old, Henry Weycker, hit a line drive back at Stein earlier this summer that broke the coach’s nose.
“I’d gladly take that again for a chance to be here with these kids,” Stein said.
Wellesley South advanced to the state’s final four last year, but didn’t win a single game. The current team was happy to advance past the states and on to the regionals, but Rosenblatt says none of the players are quite satisfied.
“These guys are ready to beat anybody,” he said. “They’re ready to take ’em all on. They’re certainly happy to be there, but they’re not only happy to be there. They’re not going to lay down and roll over when we get down there. They’ve been through a lot and they have a lot of confidence.”