MISSOULA, Mont. - The Zootown All-Stars returned home to Missoula Sunday evening after a week spent competing at the Senior League World Series in Delaware.
"It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life," said infielder Quincy Preston.
"An unbelievable experience and I'm so glad I got to experience it," agreed first baseman and pitcher Kendall Rauk. "It was so sweet."
A police-escorted parade was held for the team in Missoula to honor their huge accomplishments representing the Western United States.
"Today has been kind of bittersweet," explained Preston, who will be a junior at Missoula Big Sky this fall. "We were all really sad to leave Delaware just because it was an incredible experience but this has been really cool. It's great to see everyone back in the community and all their love; hopefully we show them the love back."
Missoula went 4-2 at the tournament and advanced all the way to the World Series championship game before losing to Indiana for the title. Zootown is the first team from Montana to ever make it that far.
"I mean we are the only team from Montana to do this," said infielder Adessa Gagner, a sophomore from Missoula Hellgate. "And that's incredible to be able to say I was part of this."
"We know that in over 50 years of Little League history just here in Missoula, nobody has gotten there before," said Zootown head coach Kevin Miltko. "That's a big deal, it's a big accomplishment."
With that success also came national exposure this past week. Their semifinal game on Friday aired on ESPN-U and the championship game Saturday morning was broadcast live on ESPN.
"It was kind of nerve-wracking knowing they're there but then again I just thought it's a regular game and they're just here to videotape," said Rauk. "You've just got to get the job done and have fun."
"It was pretty scary and pretty nerve-wracking but when you're in the game you don't even think about it," said Missoula Loyola junior Frankie Schwenk. "You're just having fun and playing softball."
"Every one of the coaches there was talking about Macey Newbary," said Miltko of his starting pitcher. "They all had a (radar) gun on her. They knew how fast she could throw; she was throwing harder than anyone else at the tournament. There is no doubt that playing in a tournament like that on ESPN means that people know who these kids are now."
The players say the exposure and success were awesome. But even better was the support they felt all week long from the Treasure State.
"I've never had that many fans in my life," smiled Rauk, who will be a junior at Missoula Big Sky this fall. "And it was really cool how everyone was saying good luck no matter what, you guys made Missoula proud."
"After every game I'd get on my phone and see so many updates and notifications," added Preston. "Montana really shows the love."
The team says they're already looking forward to trying to go one step further and win the World Series next year; the majority of this year's squad will be eligible to play with each other again next summer.