Entering the 2013 Little League World Series, the top international team was perennial favorite Japan. With the International Championship game behind us, that remains true, but another country has emerged as one that could rival Japan for years to come: Mexico.
With a third-place finish in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Mexico has officially created a reputation as a Little League baseball powerhouse.
Mexico finished their 2013 campaign with a high-octane 15-14 victory over New England, finishing third overall. They managed 16 hits and tallied at least three runs in every inning from the second to the fifth, including four in the third and fifth.
It was the third time in six games that Mexico topped 12 runs, thus earning a spot amongst the best of the year by earning bronze.
Brandon Montes clubbed a home run for the fifth time in six games for Mexico, proving to be their most consistent source of offense. Saul Favela added a homer with four RBI and Ramona Mendoza picked up a home run with three RBI.
They needed every run.
Admittedly, it's difficult to predict whether or not their success will carry over to the 2014 season. Different teams will contend with every passing year, and for a country that produces quality squads from multiple cities, seeing Tijuana again next year is a long shot.
With that being said, Mexico made a statement that they aren't just a country that stumbled upon success in 2013—they're legitimate.
During the course of the Little League World Series, the only team that could bring them down was Japan. The first meeting between the two was decided by a count of 5-2, with Japan using a fifth-inning rally to clinch their berth in the International Championship.
During the International title game, Japan defeated Mexico 3-2 and needed a run in the top of the sixth to advance. In other words, Mexico played the eventual 2013 Little League World Series champions even and nearly took down the most decorated Little League country of the century.
Is Mexico a perennial Little League World Series power?
Japan's six titles since 1999 are unparalleled, with no other team winning more than two.
In games played against teams other than Japan, Mexico outscored their opponents by a count of 44-16. That includes a 12-0 victory over Australia and a 13-0 drubbing of a Latin America team that was one win away from the International Championship game itself.
Closing out with a 15-14 win over New England simply proves that those games were no fluke.
Those performances proved just how far ahead Mexico was of it's international competition but also how far they've come as a program. Mexico hasn't won a World Series title since 1997 and last won in 1957 and 1958 before that.
Furthermore, they've reached the Little League World Series final just once since winning it all.
With that being established, this is the second time in three years that Mexico has played Japan in the International Championship game. While they may not have won either contest, Mexico has proven to be a step away from reaching a level of supremacy.
A break through against Japan, the all-but-unanimous choice for the label of the world's best, now seems to be around the corner.
Exiting South Williamsport with a third-place finish is no reason to be upset, especially after coming so close to reaching the Little League World Series final. Instead, Mexico should use this to build confidence for future generations.
We fully expect them to do so after this year's extraordinary performance.