By Will Desautelle and Ethan Roy
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Curley Martha, the hero for Curacao against Japan in the International Championship, stepped up to the plate against Louisiana pitcher Egan Prather with his team trailing, 8-0.
Prather began the at-bat having thrown 76 pitches on the afternoon. After Martha fouled off seven pitches to start the at-bat, Prather knew it was his last chance to record the final out or he would have to be removed for reaching 85 pitches.
“I did realize that,” Prather said. “I just wanted to get that final out, so I didn’t have to get taken out.”
Finally, on the 12th pitch of the at-bat, Martha put the ball in play, with a hard line drive. For the second day in a row, there was Shortstop Stan Wiltz to make the catch for the final out and put Louisiana in the history books. The team from Eastbank Little League became the first team ever from the Pelican State to claim a Little League Baseball® World Series title.
After losing its first game of the tournament to Hawaii, the eventual World Series Champions rattled off six consecutive victories and finished at the top of Little League Baseball.
Manager Scott Frazier believed that having to play six games in nine days after that opening loss was a huge momentum builder.
“I think that was the difference,” Frazier said. “I said to the guys after we lost that first game that we’re here to play. It’s better than sitting around and not doing anything, but there’s no question that the momentum throughout the elimination bracket carried us to (Saturday’s) and (Sunday’s) games.”
Prather threw a complete game, two-hit shutout, marking the second year in a row that the winning pitcher in the championship game threw a complete game two-hit shutout. Hawaii’s Ka’olu Holt did the same against South Korea last year.
“Whatever coach called I was confident in throwing,” Prather said.
“It makes my job really easy when they can execute the pitches and Egan’s always done that,” Frazier said. “Everything worked for him today … his change-up was outstanding. Those guys were guessing and we just kept them on their heels the whole time.”
After Reece Roussel broke the record for most hits in a single Little League World Series, he added to his total with two more hits today to finish with 17 for the tournament.
“The ball was looking like a beach ball,” Roussel said. “I had so much confidence going up to the plate.”
Marshall Louque collected three more extra base hits in the title game victory and set his own record on Sunday. He hit his sixth and seventh doubles of the tournament, the most ever in a single LLBWS.
“It felt good to just be able to help the team out and win this championship,” Louque said. Louque was not aware that he broke the doubles record until being told so after the game.
With their backs continuously against the wall, Louisiana outscored its opponents, 27-5, in its final three games.
“I can’t process it, but at the end of the day this tournament started with approximately 7,700 teams and here we are, we’re the best of everybody,” Frazier said. “And that’s the part of the process I can’t comprehend…It came down to all 13 kids buying in and their families buying in.”
After defeating Japan in the International Championship, Pabao Little League of Curaçao reached the Little League Baseball World Series title game for the third time. Curaçao won the Little League Championship in 2004, but did not experience the same success 15 years later.
Despite the lopsided result, manager Michelangelo Celestina kept things in perspective.
“It means a lot to us. We’re playing the best teams in the world,” said Celestina.. “It means a lot for the kids and the country.”
With a population of roughly 161,000, Curaçao is handily one of the smallest countries represented at the World Series every year they attend. And yet, they are one of the strongest clubs at the tournament every time they make the trip, with seven appearances in the International Championship, and three victories.
“What we accomplished is big,” said Celestina. “That experience, as International Champions at the Little League World Series, means a lot for the kids.”
Taking the field on Championship Sunday under a blue sky, the Caribbean Region Champions culminated an impressive, and fun, run through the elimination bracket.
While the championship did not go the way they wanted, the manager, and the team, were quick to move on: “We lose, and it’s another day, and that’s it,” said Celestina.
Despite moving on from the game result itself, the impact this team had on the players, coaches, and the country of Curaçao prevails. “It puts them back on the map,” said Curaçao coach Edmar Cornelia.
Pabao Little League entered the 2019 LLB® World Series as the most experienced league in the 16-team pool with nine trips all-time. After falling in their second-round game to the Asia-Pacific Region Champion from South Chungcheong, South Korea, the team battled back to win four straight, demonstrating an impressive and inspiring display of perseverance and fortitude.
The final result was unfavorable for the Pabao Little Leaguers, but in the big picture, the overarching impact and example set by the World Championship game foes goes far beyond the result, while illustrating what is possible when children play for love of the game.