Undefeated, Vienna Little League team wins regional championship, town’s first in 50 years

The Vienna American 11 All Stars after winning the 2022 Little League southeast regional championship in Wilson, North Carolina (courtesy Vienna Little League)

For the first time in a half-century, the Town of Vienna is home to a Little League Baseball regional championship team.

The Vienna American 11U All Stars beat the Greenville Tar Heels in a 2-1 nail-biter on Wednesday (Aug. 3) to claim the 2022 southeast regional title at the Tournament of State Champions in Wilson, North Carolina.

The championship capped off two consecutive perfect summers for the 13-player team, which consists of the top 11-year-old players in the league. With an unbroken win streak of approximately 30 games and two state titles under its belt, the team has been living up to its nickname: “the Big Red Machine.”

“I’m just in awe of these kids,” team manager Chris Leggett told FFXnow by phone. “I’m in awe of their commitment level, and I’m in awe of how hard they have worked…I’ve seen really good teams, and I’ve never seen a team that kind of came together as quickly as this one did and has been as committed right from day one.”

According to Vienna Little League (VLL), the regional championship is the town’s first since 1972. It could potentially have come a year earlier if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out the entire 2020 Little League season and cut the 2021 All Star season short at the state tournament level.

Little League returned to normal this year, at least in terms of scheduling, with a regular season unfolding from April through May and the All Stars assembling in June for the district, state, and regional tournaments.

A VLL coach for 20 years now, Leggett has seen success before, including an All Stars team that won state titles as 10, 11, and 12-year-olds from 2014 to 2016. He’s also aware that past victories are no guarantee of future ones, an understanding that the players share.

Rather than coasting on last year’s state championship, the Big Red Machine players “worked incredibly hard” throughout the offseason and showed up in June “a well-oiled machine already,” distinguished as much by that dedication and focus as their athletic abilities, Leggett says.

Over two months of daily practices and “one-loss-and-you’re-out” tournaments paid off in what turned out to be the team’s closest game of the year.

After Carson Park scored the go-ahead run on a double by Sean Ying in the bottom of the fifth, the Tar Heels managed to get the tying and game-winning runners on base with one out in the sixth and final inning, according to VLL’s game summary.

Replacing starting pitcher Paxton Leon, reliever Adam Kressin managed to induce a ground ball double play. Third baseman Brady Kang’s toss to first baseman Case McClure, who had hit a game-tying home run in the second inning, clinched the championship.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Leggett admitted. “…Vienna hasn’t had a team win at this level in 50 years, so I wanted to get that monkey off our back and bring it home for Vienna, so I was nervous the entire time.”

For Leggett, the tournament brought an added layer of emotion: his father, who coached VLL when Leggett played as a kid in the 1970s and ’80s, had died during the weekend of the state tournament just last month.

“He loved [coaching]. It meant a lot to him, so it meant a lot to me to be there, but I was thinking about him the entire time,” he said. “Before every game, when they did the national anthem, I got tears in my eyes. I just looked up to the sky, and I just hoped he was looking down and smiling, and maybe guiding us a little bit through it.”

Now back from North Carolina, the players are squeezing in summer vacations before the upcoming school year or simply taking a break from baseball, but there will be plenty of reunions to come.

In addition to getting a team party, the kids can expect celebrations in the form of a float in Vienna’s annual Halloween parade, a town hall ceremony, and even recognition at Nationals Park during a game later this month.

Then, it’s back to the grind of preparing for next summer. As seasoned 12-year-olds, they will have a new goal in sight: the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“It’s an entirely new tournament next year, and we have to start right at ground zero, and it’s a tall order to try to win every game for three straight years,” Leggett said. “We’ll try our best to do it and represent Vienna.”