Louisville crosses finish line with ‘A’-plus performance
Engulfed in a sea of celebratory hugs, and lost somewhere between utter disbelief and inexpressible joy, 12 hard-working young men celebrated the 2002 Little League World Championship.
They may not have been the most talented team in the tournament. They may not have been the biggest or the strongest 11- and 12-year-olds in Williamsport during the last nine days. But they had worked the hardest, dedicated themselves in ways others could not, and now the Valley Sports American Little Leaguers from Louisville, Ky., are the best in the world.
“Everything comes down to how hard these guys have worked,” Louisville manager J. Troy Osborne said.
Kentucky did what many said could not be done. They hit an un-hittable Japanese pitcher, and scored a run on a team that had allowed only one in its previous five games. Louisville bested the previously undefeated squad from Sendai, Japan, 1-0 on Sunday evening in front of 41,000 spectators at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
Kentucky’s Aaron Alvey wasted no time letting Japan know who was in charge. The Louisville slugger teed off on the first offering he saw from Japan hurler Yoosuke Katoh in the top of the first inning. There was no doubt from the moment the “ping” echoed across the stadium that Alvey’s shot would end up in his display case. The monster blast traveled an estimated 250 feet and proved to be the game’s lone run.
“There are very few batters who could have hit that pitch,” Japan manager Kazutomo Takahashi said through an interpreter. “Alvey is a wonderful player, all around.”
Takahashi was right. As daunting as Alvey was at the plate, he was even more dominant 45 feet away. The Kentucky right-hander struck out the side in the top of the first inning, and those three K’s would only be the beginning. Alvey fanned 11 in his complete-game masterpiece.
After the first-inning bomb cleared the fence, Katoh settled down. The Japan pitcher would not allow another run.
“Katoh pitched a great game,” Takahashi said.
But the Sendai offense simply could not decipher Alvey. Only once did it advance a runner past second base, and in that inning Alvey struck out the next batter he faced to get out of the jam. The Asia champs managed three hits off Louisville’s starter, but more importantly, goose eggs filled their run row.
Alvey headed into the final frame still holding a 1-0 lead and facing the heart of the Japanese lineup. The pitcher blew three strikes by Koohei Takahashi for the first out. Alvey then induced Tsukasa Satoh to ground out to third for out No. 2. Team captain Katoh managed to walk, and catcher Tatsuhiko Numakura strolled to the plate as the potential
winning run or as the final obstacle standing between Louisville and the first American World Series championship since Toms River, N.J., won in 1998.
“I knew that I had to just go out there and pitch my game and hope my defense would hold on,” Alvey said.
Alvey’s defense did hold on.
Numakura sent a scorching line drive toward the right field line that had “extra-bases” written all over it. But the ball was snared by first baseman Casey Jordan, and Louisville’s dream run through the Little League World Series was complete.
“I was excited,” Jordan said. “I just said to myself, ‘Make sure you have the ball before you celebrate.’”
For Alvey, the shutout victory capped an achievement of historic proportions. The hurler set the World Series record for strikeouts with 44, consecutive scoreless innings pitched with 21, and he tied the record for consecutive no-hit innings with 12.
But Alvey was not impressed with the numbers.
“They shouldn’t have records,” he said. “Someone always breaks them. I hope someone breaks my records.”
Sunday marked the last time the 12 young men from Louisville would play together on a Little League field.
“These 12 kids will never play together again,” Osborne said. “It is great that we went out on what no one else can say that they went out on.
“Now that is a great feeling.”