When Reece Roussel walked back into school at St. Charles Borromeo Tuesday morning, he had no idea what was awaiting him.
A hero’s welcome.
The school’s gymnasium was packed with cheering students and adorned with banners congratulating their friend and schoolmate after Roussel became a national star in helping to lead Louisiana Eastbank to the Little League World Series championship, the standout slugging his way to the most hits at the event’s history along the way.
Calm, confident and collected in his plate appearances throughout Eastbank’s run, Roussel seemed more in awe of Tuesday’s scene at school than he did any of the stellar pitchers he faced over the past several weeks in Williamsport, Penn., where the LLWS is held.
“I never expected this by a longshot,” Roussel said. “I thought I’d walk in, my classmates might say congratulations … not all of this. It means a lot. It means so much, and it’s hard to put into words.”
It seemed like so long ago that Eastbank had actually lost its first World Series contest against Hawaii, making for elimination games the rest of the way. But the River Ridge-based team did its best work with its back against the wall—in fact becoming the first team ever to win the U.S. National Championship or the World Series after losing its opening game. Eastbank bested teams from Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey and Virginia to set up a rematch with Hawaii.
Eastbank won that one 9-5 to seal up the U.S. crown and advance to face Curacao to settle a world championship.
Consider it settled: the kids from Louisiana dominated en route to an 8-0 victory.
In addition to the ultimate team accomplishment, by tournament’s end Roussel was firmly established as his team’s most feared hitter — and if not the most feared in the event’s history, certainly the most productive. His 17 hits set a new event record. He went 17 for 23, finishing the LLWS with a batting average of .739, seven doubles, a triple and a grand slam home run.
“(By the final games) right before I got into the box, I looked at the pitcher, and just by looking at him, I knew I had them worried,” Roussel said. “I was just full of confidence.”
Was this the hottest hitting streak he had ever experienced?
“It was the best … well …” Roussel said, trailing off to perhaps consider some of the other strong surges he’d gone on.
Given the level of competition, though, he said there was really no doubt.
“This was the best,” he said. “I’ve had a few hitting streaks, but this one was the best ever.”
While Louisiana was watching and cheering on he and his teammates during their televised games, Roussel said the team’s players were largely unaware of the hype that was starting to build behind them back home.
“We were kind of in a bubble while we were there,” Roussel said. “I had no idea it was this big. Coming home and experiencing all of this, it’s pretty crazy.”
Roussel’s father, Corey, said it was surreal watching his son live out what was his own longtime dream as a boy.
“I think making it to Williamsport was almost more of a dream for me than for him … he’s so laid back and he doesn’t get overemotional,” Corey said. “But once we got there, I think he felt the same way I did about it. It was so amazing and exciting. To think of it now … I can’t believe all of this just happened.”
Like watching your son become a world champion, and the Little League World Series hit king to boot?
“You don’t bat .700,” Corey said, shaking his head. “As everything unfolded, you started kind of believing, hey, what if … and the boys just got better and better.
“But does it feel real? Not yet. I’m still working on that.”
His classmates were also thrilled for him and eager to welcome him back.
“To think we go to school with him every day and see him on TV like that it pretty crazy,” said Brooke Ledet, a SCB seventh grader. “Personally, I’m really happy for him. He’s kind of shy here at school, so to see him that excited once they won, it made me pretty happy.”
Added fellow seventh grader Matthew Lemmon,” Especially after they lost to Hawaii to start off, it was really fun to see them go on a run and to see him going at the plate. Everyone’s really happy for him and so am I.”
SCB Principal Rachel Hafford called Roussel a model student and “all-around amazing child,” and said the welcome back event was a way to show appreciation for he and his teammates.
“The excitement here was similar to when the Saints won the Superbowl,” she said.
As for Roussel’s emotions about the win, he said Eastbank’s goal was simply to make it to Williamsport for the LLWS.
“When we won regionals, we felt like we’d already won,” he said. “Any winning from that point was just gonna be extra.”
Little did he know, the winning had only just begun.
“We fought hard and we won. I don’t think it’s set in yet,” Roussel said. “It’ll probably take awhile.”