K-K-K-K-Kan you believe it?
Fort Worth’s Walker Kelly and Louisville’s Aaron Alvey might as well have been standing back-to-back Wednesday night, marching off ten paces.
The United States semifinal between Fort Worth, Texas, and Louisville, Ky., was a pitcher’s duel of the most dangerous kind. The rifles each hurler had in place of an arm were most definitely loaded.
The winner of the semifinal showdown advanced to the United States Championship. The loser watched the championship from the bleachers.
The “do or die” scenario only made the hotly contested pitcher’s duel that much more exciting.
Neither hurler gave any ground. There were no hits or runs for either team through six innings.
Alvey was simply dominant. He struck out 19 Texans, five of them looking. And Kelly was even more lethal. The lefty victimized 21 Louisville hitters.
Despite the magnificent showings by both starters, neither was awarded a decision. The game finally ended in the eleventh inning, with Great Lakes winning 2-0.
The pitchers combined for a Little League-record 40 strikeouts through the nine innings they battled.
Both pitchers more than lived up to the expectations of the 15,130 in attendance at Lamade Stadium.
Kelly was perfect through 5.2 innings before surrendering a walk to 4-foot-7 second baseman Alex Hornback.
Louisville catcher Ethan Henry finally timed Kelly’s delivery with two outs in the seventh inning. Henry dropped a bloop double into shallow right field to spoil Kelly’s masterpiece. He then advanced to third on a wild pitch, putting the go-ahead run 60 feet from the plate. But Kelly got out of the jam by bedazzling Casey Jordan with a wicked curveball to end the inning.
Both Kelly and Alvey went the maximum of nine innings allowed by Little League.
With the game still scoreless at the end of nine, both teams were forced to change pitchers. Kelly had fanned a remarkable 21 batters in his marathon performance. Alvey was replaced with 19 strikeouts to his credit, and a no-hitter still in tact.
“Alvey pitched one tremendous game tonight,” Louisville manager J. Troy Osborne said. “To go nine innings with no hits… My hat is off to him.”
While Osborne beamed about his hurler’s showing, Kelly’s manager – and father – was also very proud of his pitcher’s performance.
“Walker was awesome, there is no other way to say it,” Jon Kelly said.
The opposition agreed.
“(Kelly) was awesome tonight,” Alvey said. “He really shut us down.”
Team captains Osborne and Alvey took matters into their own hands in the top of the 11th inning. Osborne hammered the first pitch he saw from Kelly’s replacement, Mikey Valdez, over the centerfield fence. Alvey followed with a drive that had to be cleared by air traffic controllers to land.
“(Valdez) threw an inside fastball,” Alvey said. “As soon as I hit it, I said to myself ‘That is out of here.’”
Josh Robinson took the hill for Louisville in the bottom of the eleventh, and Fort Worth cut the deficit in half. Leadoff man Jeffery Vander Hamm scored Fort Worth’s first run on a throwing error by catcher Henry. But Robinson then got Valdez to chase a curveball in the dirt to end the game and pick up the save.
“I knew I had to come out here and pitch for the team so hopefully we would advance and I wouldn’t have to go back to school,” Alvey said with a grin.
The Great Lakes team will play in the U.S. Championship on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the winner of the Harlem-Worcester matchup. Those teams meet Thursday at 7 p.m.