The 2013 Little League World Series is reaching its final stages in South Williamsport, Pa. Only the strong remain as the final six teams compete for championship glory.
It's not easy for any team. Achieving victory against the remaining teams is daunting. Some have dominated their way through the tournament, while others have an undying will to succeed during late-inning situations. Regardless of which teams meet, it will be a clash between two elite competitors.
The United States Championship Game and International Championship Game are within reach. The only question at this point is who has the least enviable road to the title.
It's not as difficult to decide as you may think. Here are the teams facing the most difficult draw.
Japan (Tokyo, Japan)
During its first game of the 2013 Little League World Series, Japan made a statement by winning 7-3 against Europe-Africa. After the squad from Brno, Czech Republic lost to Canada, however, some questioned just how convincing a win it was for Japan.
One game later, Japan narrowly escaped Chinese Taipei by a score of 3-2.
Now, Japan enters a clash with Mexico with a berth in the International Championship Game on the line. Mexico has outscored its opponents 25-0, so Japan has no room for error against the most dominant hitting and pitching team in South Williamsport.
Should it lose, Japan will be forced to play a surging Latin America team.
Latin America defeated Chinese Taipei by a score of 8-7, solving Asia-Pacific's vaunted pitching staff. The Japanese team plays in a similar manner, so momentum is on Panama's side.
Japan would be the favored team, but drawing Latina America would be a less than ideal. As if playing Mexico is any better.
Latin America (Aguadulce, Panama)
Latin America is currently 3-1 at the 2013 Little League World Series. They own a 9-4 win over the Caribbean, a 12-0 drubbing of Canada and a heart-stopping 8-7 victory against Asia-Pacific.
Unfortunately, its only loss was a 13-0 decimation at the hands of Mexico—a team it may be facing again in the next round.
Mexico is set to play Japan with a berth in the International Championship Game on the line. Should Mexico lose, it will play Panama for the second time in the tournament. Mexico has been dominant, so it's safe to say no one wants to draw them.
Especially not a squad that lost 13-0 to that very team just days prior.
If Mexico wins and advances, Panama will be tasked with facing Japan. For those unfamiliar, Japan has produced eight Little League World Series champions, including the team that won in 2012.
When your options are the most decorated active program or the team with the most momentum, you have yourself a tough draw.
New England (Westport, Conn.)
New England has gone undefeated through two games, but both contests were tight. It outdueled Southeast 3-2 in its opener and held on to win 9-7 after fighting off a four-run fifth inning from Northwest.
Now, New England draws Chula Vista, Calif.
Chula Vista has the MVP of the tournament in Grant Holman, who has thrown an extra-innings, no-hitter complete game and hit a game-winning grand slam. Chula Vista is also fresh off of a 15-3 victory over Mid-Atlantic.
New England couldn't have drawn a more difficult opponent in the U.S. bracket.
If New England loses, it will be forced to play Northwest for the second time. While a 9-7 win over Sammamish, Wash. may breed confidence, the final score isn't the only fact to know from that game.
Sammamish didn't win, but it has momentum after scoring six unanswered runs to close out. If there was ever a time for New England to worry, it's now.