The final stretch of the 2013 Little League World Series is approaching with Wednesday's Round 3 games. The winners of those matchups will advance to their respective championships and move one step away from youth baseball's premium prize.
For those who don't win, an additional, subsequent elimination game to advance to the championship stage is required.
An intriguing battle between Japan and Mexico headlines the afternoon action on Wednesday, while Westport, Conn. faces off with Chula Vista, Calif. to cap off the evening. The loser of the former contest will take on Latin America in the International Semifinal, while the Americans who come out on the short end will face the Sammamish, Wash., squad.
Let's take a closer look at what's on tap for the winner's brackets with a brief preview and prediction for each game.
Note: Scores and statistics are courtesy of LittleLeague.org.
Japan vs. Mexico
The Tijuana club has demolished its past two opponents 12-0 and 13-0 respectively, but this latest assembly of stars from Tokyo has plenty of pride on the line.
Japan is looking to defend the World Series crown and even had a team from its capital city take home the hardware last year. There is plenty of reason to believe the team can haul in what would be the third championship in four years for the country, too.
A gritty one-run win over Asia-Pacific got the Japanese club here. The team nearly blew a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth and final inning after putting up two runs of their own in the top half.
The team has also won in dominant fashion, disposing of Europe-Africa 7-3 thanks to three-run innings in the first and second to sap the energy out of their opponents. Combine that with a star pitcher in Kazuki Ishida, and Japan has the ingredients for winning it all.
That is the type of adversity Mexico simply hasn't faced to date.
However, the ridiculously stacked batting order consisting of Ramon Mendoza—who knocked two out of the park in the recent rout over Latin America—and Brandon Montes, who has two homers of his own, should be enough to get Tijuana to the International Championship to face Panama.
Prediction: Mexico 7, Japan 3
New England (Westport, Conn.) vs. West (Chula Vista, Calif.)
Much of the fanfare surrounding this showdown is going to involve the West's Grant Holman, who tossed a no-hitter and walk-off mercy-ruled his team's previous opponent with a grand slam.
The extremely slender Holman has bodily dimensions that match up with several notable MLB stars, as ESPN Stats & Info points out:
No one has managed to really stop this powerful offensive lineup from California, and Holman is available to pitch, according to Jeff Sanders of UTSanDiego.com. The conundrum comes in deciding what to do with Holman, who could be better utilized perhaps in the next contest—be it the U.S. Championship or the elimination-game semifinal.
Sanders also notes how Westport has a serious decision to make with regard to who takes the mound. The team's ace Chad Knight just tossed 68 pitches in a 3-2 triumph over the Southeast on Aug. 15.
Although New England isn't quite as explosive, this is a fundamentally sound and smart defensive team that has maintained a 20-0 record this summer.
The bats should be a bit quieter for Chula Vista, but look for the California club to pull out a narrow victory.
Prediction: West 5, New England 3