Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date: Friday, Aug. 24, 2012
One team has a perfect record. The other had to go through the losers' bracket with one loss.
Every year, different teams from across the country take different routes to the United States Championship game of the Little League World Series, and this year is no different.
While the Southeast champs from Goodlettsville, Tenn., Little League advanced to the Little League World Series Championship game with an unblemished record, the West champs from Petaluma, Calif., Little League did not.
For the Southeast champs, the road to the championship game was a road of nothing but wins. The Southeast began their journey against the Midwest on the first day of the Little League World Series last Thursday, dominating the Midwest champs from Kearney, Neb., Little League, 12-1. Up until the top of the sixth inning, the Southeast led by four runs, but exploded for seven runs in the sixth inning, putting the game out of reach for the Midwest.
For the game, Brock Myers and Jake Rucker combined to pitch six innings while only allowing two hits. With the win, the Southeast advanced in the winners' bracket to play the West. This game proved to be a much tighter contest, with the Southeast coming out on top, 9-6. After having already taken the lead and given it up earlier in the game, the score was 5-5 going into the sixth inning. In the top of the inning, the Southeast scored four runs to take a 9-5 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Rucker would only give up one run, giving the Southeast the win.
The final team standing in the Southeast’s way of advancing to the United States championship game was a fellow undefeated team, the Southwest champs from San Antonio, Texas, Little League. This game would prove to be another tight game for the Southeast, but they emerged victorious again. In what proved to be a back and forth game, the Southwest took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but that was short lived as the Southeast scored two runs in the top of the third inning to take a 1-run lead.
However, the lead would change hands two more times in the game, with the Southwest taking the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, and the Southeast taking it right back in the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the sixth, Luke Brown came in for the Southeast, shutting down the Southwest's offense and sending his team to the United States Championship game.
“We’re just enjoying the ride,” Southeast manager Joey Hale said.
Brown said that if they win the United States championship game that would be great, but just getting here is an accomplishment in and of itself. He said, if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be, but if it isn’t, it isn’t.
While the Southeast’s march to the United States championship game went unimpeded, the West’s did not.
The West got off to a good start in the tournament, winning their first game over the New England champions from Fairfield, Conn., Little League, 6-4. After each scored a run in the first inning, the West took a 3-1 lead in the third inning, scoring one unearned run and the other off of a home run by Bradley Smith.
New England would cut the lead to one in the fourth, but the West would score two runs in the fifth and one run in the sixth to put the game out of reach, securing a 6-4 win.
"Our approach has been a lot better at the plate."-- West Manager Eric Smith about his team's offense since dropping into the losers' bracket.
After that win, the Southeast knocked the West into the losers' bracket, forcing the West to play solid baseball to stay alive.
“We’re all right,” manager Eric Smith said after the loss to the Southeast last Sunday. “It’s a strong group of kids." “We can’t let this game affect tomorrow’s game (against the Mid-Atlantic),” he said.
The West certainly wouldn’t let the loss against the Southeast affect them, as they went on to win their next three games in the losers' bracket, defeating the Mid-Atlantic champions from Parsippany, N.J., and New England. The last team standing in their way of playing in the United States Championship game was the Southwest, and the West would crush them 11-1 in five innings.
The highlight of the game against the Southwest came in the bottom of the first inning when Hance Smith hit a grand slam to give the West a 5-0 lead early. Smith said he has been feeling more confident during the last couple games, and he’s been trying to get his hands out in front of the plate.
“Our approach has been a lot better at the plate,” manager Smith said.
Porter Slate also said he feels the team has been playing really well of late, hitting the ball and playing good defense.
A team playing well going into a championship game is never a good sign for their opponent, but the Southeast hasn’t been playing too bad either and if their first contest was any indication, it’s shaping up to be a tight game. Fans are certainly going to be in for a treat, especially if both teams start their aces, Bradley Smith for the West and Myers for the Southeast.
Both teams have also highlighted what they can do with the bat, especially Smith from the West. For the tournament so far, he is hitting .429 with six hits, three home runs and 10 RBIs.
While Smith has been doing what he is doing, Myers for the Southeast has been putting up solid numbers in the Little League World Series as well, hitting .600 with six hits, three home runs, and five RBIs.
Whether the aces for each team take over or both offenses explode for a big day at the plate, fans are sure to be in for a tightly contested battle for the chance to represent the United States on the grandest stage in youth baseball.
The West and Southeast face off on Saturday at Lamade Stadium at 3:30 p.m. The winner will play the victor of the International Championship game between Toyko, Japan and the Latin American champions from Aguadulce, Panama, Little League on Sunday at Lamade Stadium at 3 p.m. for the Little League World Series title.