Maryland advances from strange triangle on thrilling night at
Whatever you could
make of the excitement and roller-coaster of emotions that three
teams went through Tuesday night at Howard J. Lamade Stadium,
there is one underlying truth to it all.
It could only happen
at the Little League World Series.
Champions (Maryland) sat beyond the fence in the outfield, rooting
for Great Lakes to win, but to give up at least two runs. The
Great Lakes Champions (Kentucky) sat in the home dugout, needing
to win while allowing one or zero runs. The Northwest Champions
(Washington) sat in the visitors’ dugout, needing to simply win.
Whichever scenario worked out would propel its team to a
second-place finish in Pool B and a spot in the United States
And of course, it all
came to a point in the bottom of the sixth.
With Kentucky leading
3-1 with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of sixth, ace
Cole Sturgeon worked the count to 0-2 on Washington cleanup hitter
Colin Porter. Sturgeon aimed his curveball for the dirt, hoping to
get Porter to chase and send Kentucky on.
But his curveball hung
up, and didn’t come down until Porter had whacked it over the
center-field fence. Many of the Kentucky players, knowing their
hopes were dead, fell to the ground. But after Sturgeon regrouped
in time to get the final out of Kentucky’s 3-2 win before 12,100
disbelieving fans, the Maryland players cheered with delight, as
they knew they would advance to a Thursday matchup with Pool A
Champion Thousand Oaks, Calif.
“You hate to get that
close, one pitch away,” said Kentucky manager Vic Evans Jr. “We’ve
struggled up here, and we just wanted to play one good game for
ourselves … I was too thrilled with the way they played to be
The teams all finished
pool play in a three-way tie for second place at 1-2. Since their
head-to-head wins cancel each other out, that meant it came down
to the tiebreaker – lowest run differential (runs allowed divided
by defensive innings). Since Kentucky allowed 2 runs to
Washington, its ratio (21 runs in 16 defensive innings – 1.3125)
was not as good as Maryland’s (23 runs in 18 innings – 1.28).
Washington’s total (24 runs in 17 innings) wasn’t quite enough to
topple the Mid-Atlantic squad, either.
said Maryland outfielder Nick Nowottnick. “It was exciting. We all
cheered. I’m just glad we’re in. I can’t believe that happened.”
Until it did happen,
Sturgeon’s effort was nothing short of superhuman. Faced with the
unenviable task of not only getting his team the win but allowing
a maximum of one run, the southpaw tossed a 15-strikeout,
If that weren’t
enough, he also went 3-for-3, knocking in what was almost the
game-winning run with a two-run homer, and scoring the eventual
game-winning run after doubling in the fifth. He also blocked what
would have been Washington’s second run from scoring on a wild
pitch with his lower leg in the fourth inning, tagging the runner
out and temporarily preserving his team’s hopes.
“I think we all
thought it was one [run maximum that we could give up],” Sturgeon
said. “I was trying to do my best to have that man not score.”
“I did everything I
was supposed to do with a passed ball with a runner on third,”
said catcher Jake Tanner. “I think I did everything right, and I
got him the ball.”
Ryan Beliel took the
ball for Northwest, and for a while, it seemed that he would
challenge Sturgeon to a pitchers’ duel. If Washington had won, it
would have advanced without any tiebreakers with a 2-1 record.
But once the
left-handed Sturgeon blasted his opposite-field two-run shot in
the third inning, the question in the Owensboro ace’s mind was not
whether Kentucky could hold on, but if he could hold Washington to
one run or less.
He gave up his first
hit in the fourth on a leadoff single to Michael Conforto, who
eventually came around to score on Stephen Thompson’s bloop single
to right with two outs. That hit put Nick Rubideaux, who had
walked, on third, and when a Sturgeon pitch snuck by catcher Jake
Tanner during the next at-bat, it looked like Kentucky’s hopes
“I don’t know if [the
players] exactly knew the [maximum] number [of runs they could
give up],” Evans said. “The coaches knew the number.”
Tanner rushed back and
delivered the ball to a covering Sturgeon, who blocked Rubideaux’s
slide long enough to tag him out. It was clear that he knew the
number when the pitcher jumped for joy as he headed back to the
From there, he could
taste it. He retired the side in order with two strikeouts in the
fifth. After doubling in the top of the sixth, he appeared to be
injured from his slide into second, but he got up and immediately
scored on Meghan Sims’s single.
He then confidently
took the hill for the sixth and struck out the first two on nine
pitches. He had Porter at 0-2 before he hung the curveball.
“I knew we were one
pitch away,” Sturgeon said. “We won the game, but it’s a weird way
to win a game.”
The entire path was
weird, for both teams. The night would have been more comfortable
for Maryland if it hadn’t allowed seven runs in the sixth inning
to Texas earlier in the day – an occurrence Kentucky knew the
significance of when it watched the game on TV.
And Kentucky would
have only needed to win if Sturgeon – whose reputation preceded
him to Williamsport with a pair of 17-strikeout games in the Great
Lakes regional – had not been so wild in their opening loss to
“You talk about being
disappointed tonight,” said Kentucky coach Keith Evans. “I was
disappointed with the start of our tournament. Had we taken care
of business in our first game, then this game, we don’t have to
worry about it. You just go win.”
And though they did
win, in the end, the winner was Maryland on the year’s most
thrilling night in South Williamsport – so far.
Not that Kentucky’s
consolation prize was so bad.
“You finished your
little league career winning your last little league game at
Howard J. Lamade Stadium on ESPN,” Vic Evans said. “How in the
world could you not be happy with that?”
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