Coming into the 2018 Little League Baseball® World Series, all eyes were on the defending champion Japan Region in the International bracket. However, it was another team from Asia that emerged victorious: South Seoul Little League from South Korea.
For the third time in the last five years, a team from South Korea has won the Little League Baseball’s International Championship.
Despite the country’s recent success, this South Korea team entered the tournament rather quietly. In its first game, the Little Leaguers from South Korea’s capital fell behind early to Puerto Rico. However, they rallied in their final at-bat to tie the game at 2-2, and eventually pulled out a 4-2 victory.
Following the win, it was still unclear which direction South Korea would move in the tournament. However, the team came out strong in its next game against Mexico, downing Matamoros Little League, 5-1. Now, the South Seoul LL started rolling. The Asia-Pacific champs fired on all cylinders against Japan in the International Semifinal, cruising to a 10-0, four-inning victory.
Leading into the International Championship Game, it was apparent that South Korea was a force to be reckoned with. Japan had another shot to defend its 2017 title, but their International Region counterparts proved to be too strong, defeating them once again, 2-1.
South Seoul LL’s Manager, Ji Hee Su, was a member of the East Seoul Little League coaching staff that won the 2016 International Championship. His team, however, lost to Maine-Endwell Little League in the World Championship Game, but that experience has proven invaluable throughout this tournament run.
“It is very hard for me to remember that loss,” Mr. Su said. “The players on that team were so strong, but I regret the decisions I made as a coach.”
Mr. Su admittedly has been very hard on himself following the 2016 loss, but he sees an important difference in this year’s team as opposed to the other.
“Compared to the 2016 team, the kids this year are not much stronger,” he said. “But, as a team, there is much more harmony between the players.”
That harmony can be seen at the beginning of each inning. The players in the field gather around second base and trade words of encouragement before taking their positions. It has become a tradition that is emblematic of their team-first mentality.
The team is bound together by their two star players, Ji Hyung Choi and Gi Jeong Kim. They have been a consistent presence in the middle of the lineup for South Korea. Together they have a .545 batting average, and have driven in nine of the team’s 21 runs.
Choi, the team captain, does it all for South Korea. He got the start in the International Championship Game, pitching 4 2/3 innings while only allowing one run on three hits with seven strikeouts. He also drives South Korea’s offense, hitting his third home run of the tournament in the bottom of the first.
Kim was on the other side of the battery in their victory over Japan. In fact, he has caught every inning for South Korea, cementing himself as a key player on both sides of the ball.
“These are the guys we rely on to hit and defend every game,” Mr. Su said. “They are the leaders of this team.”
Now, South Seoul Little League will have a chance to take home a World Series title behind deep pitching and strong defense. The team has a collective 0.48 ERA with 45 strikeouts and only three walks. Their ace pitcher, Yeong Hyeon Kim, is slated to start the championship game.
The team’s defensive prowess is what has separated it from the rest of the International bracket. In four games, the South Koreans have only committed one error. That’s good for .990 fielding percentage, which is the highest in the entire tournament.