Louisville slugs way to U.S. title
The gesture was terse but telling, subtle but strong. It was the closest thing to a warning sign hyper-humble manager J. Troy Osborne was willing to dispatch.
Osborne and his players were leaving Friday’s news conference when the skipper stopped and held up a banner revealing his squad’s victory in Little League’s annual hitting contest, which finished minutes earlier at Volunteer Stadium.
“The rumor is we can’t hit,” he said. “So I just wanted you to see this.”
The Great Lakes champions from the Valley Sports American Little League in Louisville, Ky., entered the U.S. Championship hitting .192. They had scored only 12 runs in four games, utilizing powering pitching and sound defense to cripple opponents.
Louisville’s doubters pointed to its plate performance, claiming that the Great Lakes champs would struggle for runs against Worcester, Mass., on Saturday night. Osborne and his assistants countered, saying they taught the players to win games 1-0.
Two swings silenced the cynics, but it was Louisville’s staples – pitching and defense – that made it U.S. champions.
A four-run third inning gave Kentucky its cushion, and Zachary Osborne’s stellar pitching did the rest. Great Lakes cruised to a 4-0 win over New England in front of 36,000 at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Louisville will now take on the International champions from Sendai, Japan, Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Lamade Stadium.
“It’s just an incredible feeling right now,” J. Troy Osborne said. “To be in this situation, to have gotten this far. It’s going to be an honor to play Japan.”
As both satisfied skipper and proud papa, Osborne’s wide grin was justified. His son was simply dominant, finishing the game with 73 pitches and 11 strikeouts.
“That was probably the best pitched game in this whole Series,” Worcester manager Fran Granger said of Zachary’s performance.
One should have seen it coming when he began the game with six straight strikes. Taking the mound one game after teammate Aaron Alvey had thrown a nine-inning no-hitter, Osborne upheld the near-perfect level. The right-hander fanned two Worcester hitters in five of his six frames, keeping the ball low and effectively shuffling his pitches.
“I think we kept them off-balance enough to drive the ball on the ground when they couldn’t get the ball in the air,” J. Troy Osborne said. “By keeping the ball down low, you can control the ball game.”
After recording the final out, Zachary Osborne matched his dad’s modesty, pumping his fist only once before sprinting to the dugout. Even with the U.S. title in tow, Zachary and his teammates were talking business.
“We can’t celebrate until it’s over,” Alvey said.
The quiet storm began when Wesley Walden led off with a walk, then Alex Hornback reached base after New England catcher Ryan Griffin blocked his lane to first base as he ran out a sacrifice bunt. That set the stage for Osborne, who ripped a Frank Flynn offering to left-centerfield. Alvey followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Hornback, and Henry capped the scoring with a fly that snaked around the right-field foul pole for a home run.
“Baseball’s contagious, hitting’s contagious, the whole game is contagious, so when we got it started with a hit, we seemed to make it happen,” J. Troy Osborne said. “We only scored in an inning, but that’s all we needed to win.”
For Zachary, who did not allow any runners past first base, the run support settled his nerves and sharpened his focus.
“Getting four runs really helped me calm down,” he said.
All week Louisville talked about scoring first, and it nearly followed through in the top of the first. Alvey was hit by a Frank Flynn fireball and advanced to third as Worcester fumbled Ethan Henry’s grounder. But Jacob Remines’ one-out blast was snared by Gordie Lockbaum, who wisely sprinted to the third base bag and beat Alvey by an eyelash.
Worcester will play Curacao in Sunday’s consolation game, where Granger plans to reward his reserves. He even hinted at starting 4-foot-4 Andy Fallon on the mound “just to get a big crowd.”
Despite the loss, Worcester left the field with its heads held high.
“These 13 kids, we brought Little League baseball back to Massachusetts,” Granger said.