By Will Desautelle
After the Southeast Region’s convincing 3-0 win over the New England Region Champions in the first round of the Little League Baseball® World Series, a game where Justin Lee, Liam Thyen, and Chase Obstgarten combined to throw a no-hitter, it’s hard to believe the same team had to emerge from the elimination bracket to win both their district and state tournaments.
Loudoun South Little League from Brambleton, Virginia has not only won two consecutive state championships while coming out of the elimination bracket, but they are also the first team from the state of Virginia to represent the Southeast Region at the Little League World Series in 25 years.
“It feels very good,” Lee said after winning their first game of the tournament. “It’s just amazing because we have very good teams in our district and in our state, so we are very fortunate to be the team to come out of that.”
Furthermore, they became the first team ever in District 16 to win the district tournament while coming out of the elimination bracket. The players attribute their tenacity to their closeness, both on and off the diamond.
“I think we’re very outgoing. We always get up in the dugout,” Thyen said. “Once one person gets a hit, then everyone else comes together and comes through with a couple of runs. I feel that we’re a great hitting team, and I’m very fortunate to have an opportunity to win and play in this World Series.”
Time and time again, Virginia has come up with their backs against the wall. Manager Alan Bowden attributes their resilience to one key factor: depth.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but everybody on the team contributes. Sometimes as a staff we discuss who are we going to bat in the later innings between the subs and the starters because the subs come up big all the time,” said Mr. Bowden. “I think that our balance as a team is really our biggest asset.”
With a plethora of quality hitters scattered throughout the Southeast lineup, opponents have had a difficult time pitching around certain hitters because the hitters later in the lineup have so frequently made opposing pitchers pay the price.
A prime example of the depth the team exhibits throughout its lineup was on full display in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kian Henson, one of the team’s subs, delivered a pinch-hit single from the ninth spot in the lineup. Two batters later, Brady Yates, who Mr. Bowden characterized as maybe the most powerful Little League hitter he’s ever seen, unleashed a two-run home run to right field that ultimately won Southeast the game.
The other calling card for the Loudoun South team has been its elite defense. Even with a long list of formidable pitchers, the Southeast defense always comes through to have their pitcher’s back.
“We pride ourselves in defense,” Mr. Bowden said. “We practice, practice, practice defense and we feel like the real staple of our team is defense.”
The cameras watching the team’s every move during the games are a change for Southeast, but their confidence in each other keeps the nerves at bay.
“When I was about to throw the first pitch, I was very nervous with so many cameras around me,” Lee said. “But I also knew I have a great defense behind me.”
The Southeast team is one of the few teams in Little League baseball that have the luxury of being stocked with an abundance of hitting, pitching and defensive options.
The experience of coming through the elimination bracket in several tournaments two years in a row has allowed Mr. Bowden and his staff to learn how to use his different pitchers in different situations and manage their pitch counts. Mr. Bowden says he is confident that the seven pitchers on his roster can win his team a big game, and they are excited to see what the rest of the tournament will bring for their team.