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They say youth passes in a blink of an eye.

If you are looking for proof of “Boy, time sure does fly,” try this one on for size: Five members of the Petaluma National team that went on that magical run in the summer of 2012 to finish third at the Little League World Series are now seniors beginning their final season of prep baseball.

Remember that team? Those cardiac kids who kept us all tuned to our televisions, the ones we talked about around the water cooler at the office? The team that had to play out of the loser’s bracket in two lead-up tournaments before winning the West region and heading to South Williamsport, Pa.? The team that raised our collective blood pressure to near-dangerous levels every time they took the field and inexplicably pulled out wins? Well, half of that squad of 12-year-olds who made heart-stopping plays in moments most of us can only dream about are now seniors on the cusp of bidding adieu to their high school careers.

Hance Smith and Quinton Gago at Casa Grande and Austin Paretti, Logan Douglas and Cole Tomei at Petaluma are nearing the end of years of baseball with and against the same gaggle of guys. And it was a run long before the rest of us knew it.

“The Little League World Series wasn’t the first time we played together,” Smith said. “We were on travel teams and Little League teams since we were seven years old.”

The players speak of a bond built, even if they don’t see some of the other guys every day. Their coaches say that five years later, there is a common thread among the players on that team. It includes the juniors from that team, too: Kempton Brandis, Porter Slate, Danny Marzo, Bradley Smith and Blake Buhrer from Petaluma and Dylan Moore from Casa.

“They are really composed,” Petaluma coach Jim Selvitella said of his eight from the Little League team. “That’s the word I would want to use more than anything else: composed. They were exposed to some huge things when they were 12 years old, nothing any of us ever saw,” he said.

The big moments on the field begat big moments off of it: television, autograph seekers, a parade. Pretty heady stuff for anyone, let alone a 12-year-old.

“Me, Hance and Dylan always joke that we peaked at 12, that it’s all downhill from here,” Gago said.

Hardly.

“There is a common theme from those three and it’s so evident,” Casa coach Paul Maytorena said of Smith, Gago and Moore.

“I never see a lack of confidence, any kind of nervousness or ‘No, I can’t do it,’” he said. “It doesn’t mean they succeed all the time, but they succeed more than they fail because they have that mindset.”

And it rubs off on teammates, he said.

“It’s that they are not afraid of the moment,” he said. “It’s because they have been on such a stage before. They are secure with it.”

And such a stage it was.

“Playing in the World Series in front of 40,000 and on TV helped me keep my composure in high-stress times,” Smith said. “As a person, the whole things seems surreal.”

It was the University of Pacific-bound Smith who hit that heart-stopping homer that sent the national championship game into extra innings. Smith was sitting on a 0-2 count with two outs in what would have been the final inning with his team down 16-15. His dinger capped Petaluma’s ferocious 10-run, sixth inning comeback — an effort so great it’s almost easy to forget that Petaluma wound up losing that epic game to Tennessee 24-16 and was relegated to play for third place.

“It’s all positive,” Douglas said of his memories from the summer of 2012. “Not a lot of kids get to do that. To be able to play in that (environment) is insane.”

There was a lot of talk then about keeping their heads, not just on the field but off, especially in the face of so many distractions.

“It kind of enabled me to handle a lot of attention,” Gago said. “With the attention, I didn’t want to be viewed as a jerk. I knew that I didn’t want to be viewed as an arrogant person. I wanted to be viewed as a friend. That came from Eric (Smith, team manager). He knew that before we did and needed us to understand that.”

And while there was a heckuva lot of pressure packed into those games, the players learned to navigate it, they figured out what works.

Before that World Series, a strikeout would send Gago into a self-described “hissy fit.”

“Now I get five seconds to be mad at myself and it’s over with,” he said. “That experience made it easier for us to play the game, for sure. It made it easier for us to handle difficulties within the game.”

Gago paused before adding that he sometimes tries to summon that same five-second rule when life throws him a curveball.

“It would be cool if it worked like that,” he said.

And for all of the fanfare and hoopla and attention, after the opening pitch in 2012, it was still just baseball.

“To us, it felt like a game,” Smith said.

As it should be.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”