Sunday, August 27, 2006
The Little League World Series Final is later today, and frankly I'm more excited about this game than I am about any MLB or NFL game this weekend or in the immediate future. The LLWS is a blast to watch, and this year's tournament has been a classic! When you realize that these kids have been playing in this thing for the last 10 weeks (pretty much their entire summer), and that the whole shabang started out with 7,000 teams, it's an amazing test of durability and fortitude for these two teams to have made it this far. I think it's going to be tough for the U.S. team from Columbus, Georgia to overtake the kids from Japan, but if anyone can do it, they can. The Japanese team really impressed me by beating a very good squad from Mexico. But, I am hopeful, and that's why I'm predicting a U.S. victory.
This appeared on the AP wire yesterday evening:
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) -- Clutch hitting and timely defense -- the Little Leaguers from Columbus, Ga., sure are well-schooled in the art of playing winning baseball.
Good pitching and colorful home-run trots are the hallmarks of the undefeated team from Kawaguchi City, Japan.
Should be interesting when the two teams meet for the Little League World Series championship.
Go Matsumoto homered and got starter Seigo Yada out of a sixth-inning jam with some sharp relief pitching in Japan's 3-0 win on Saturday night over Mexico to capture the international championship.
Earlier, Brady Hamilton drove in two runs and J.T. Phillips struck out eight to help Columbus defeat Beaverton, Ore., 7-3 to win the U.S. title.
The kids from Georgia and Japan will play for the title Sunday.
Hamilton broke a 3-3 tie by flaring a pitch from starter Jace Fry just out of the shortstop's reach to score Phillips from second in the fifth inning. Columbus got some breathing room with three more runs in the sixth.
Cody Walker tracked a popup in foul territory and stumbled to the ground on his back just after catching it for the final out. Jubilant teammates started piling on top of him as parents cheered and snapped pictures.
"It's a dream come true," 12-year-old outfielder Ryan Lang said.
After receiving their championship banner, the Columbus boys raced to the Beaverton dugout and invited their opponents to accompany them on the honorary victory lap around Lamade Stadium.
But only Columbus gets to play in the title game Sunday.
"I said after the semifinals that everything is gravy," happy Columbus manager Randy Morris said.
The Columbus Northern league team looked like it'd be an easy winner at first against Beaverton's Murrayhill league team. The Georgia fans chanted, "Here we go Southwest, here we go!" as their team returned to the dugout after a three-run first inning.
Momentum changed in the fourth.
Beaverton's Austin Perry had an RBI single to cut the lead to 3-1 before Trevor Nix homered to left. The 13-year-old pumped his fist after watching the ball land over the fence for a two-run shot that tied the game.
Beaverton's fortunes changed quickly when Columbus returned to the plate in the fifth and Hamilton's looping single over shortstop Derek Keller drove in the go-ahead run.
"You couldn't place that ball any better," said Derek's father, Beaverton manager Jeff Keller.
Columbus put the game away in the sixth. Josh Lester's RBI single highlighted a three-run inning and made the score 7-3.
Lester also made a nice stab of a liner by Beaverton's Sam Albert to help douse a scoring threat in the first inning, one of several nice defensive plays in the game. With runners at first and second, Albert hit a shot up the middle. But Lester quickly took a couple of steps to his left, made the catch and fell to one knee.
Keller said he thinks his son will get over the loss quickly.
"Football starts in three days," the manager said. "When he gets under center and starts throwing the ball around, I think he'll be OK."
In the nightcap, Yada started for Japan and dominated until the sixth, when Mexico managed three straight singles to load the bases with nobody out.
In came Matsumoto to close the door. The lanky, 5-foot-10 reliever with the long delivery and nice fastball struck out the first two batters he faced, then ended the game by getting a weak groundout to first.
Mexico starter Josue Barron was good early, striking out six and retiring the side through the first three innings. Fans waving the green, white and yellow flag of Mexico shouted "Josue, Josue, Josue" often drowning out the rhythmic clapping of Japanese fans.
Japan's sluggers got to Barron in the fourth. Leadoff hitter Yada sent a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall. Two batters later, Matsumoto hit the first pitch he saw from Barron into a grassy patch just before the hedges beyond the center field fence for a two-run blast.
After each shot, while rounding the bases, the hitters would nearly lean to the ground on one knee and pump an arm in front of them. After Yada reached the plate on his homer, he was greeted by awaiting teammates who did the same move.
(Blog edit: Well, it's the day after the game now, and I wasn't too far off with my prediction! The kids from Georgia beat the Tokyo tots 2-1. What a great game. I almost missed it because they moved the game time at the last minute, but I was channel surfing while eating lunch and I found it. This is only the third time that the U.S, has won it back-to-back. Hats off to the Little Leaguers, all of them. It was a great LLWS!)