As the long days of August drag by on the sports calendar, fans need something to distract them from the manufactured storylines we see far too often. After all, does it really matter that much if Johnny Manziel hung out with his friends during his free time?
Fortunately, the Little League World Series rolls around every August with groups of kids playing for the love of the game and genuinely enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The schedule for the first round of games that kicked off Thursday can be found below, and a full slate and bracket are available here, courtesy of the event’s website.
|Asia-Pacific (Seoul) vs. Europe-Africa (South Moravia)||Asia Pacific wins 10-3||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|Great Lakes (Jackie Robinson West) vs. Northwest (Lynnwood Pacific)||Thursday at 3 p.m. ET||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|Caribbean (Miguel Luzunaris) vs. Perth Metro North||Thursday at 5 p.m. ET||ESPN 2||Watch ESPN|
|Midwest (Canyon Lake) vs. West (Mountain Ridge)||Thursday at 7 p.m. ET||ESPN 2||Watch ESPN|
|Mexico (Guadalupe Linda Vista) vs. Canada (South Vancouver)||Friday at 1 p.m. ET||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|Mid-Atlantic (Taney Youth Baseball Association) vs. (Southeast) South Nashville||Friday at 3 p.m. ET||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|Latin America (Coquivacoa) vs. Japan (Tokyo Kitasuna)||Friday at 5 p.m. ET||ESPN 2||Watch ESPN|
|Southwest (Pearland East) vs. New England (Cumberland American)||Friday at 8 p.m. ET||ESPN 2||Watch ESPN|
Let’s take a look at some storylines to watch in the first round.
Pride of Chicago
The Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Morgan Park in Chicago became the city’s first squad to make it to Williamsport since 1983. Scoop Jackson of ESPNChicago.com explained why it was such an important accomplishment in light of the violence that has plagued Chicago recently:
Chicago needed this. The South and West sides needed this. Englewood, Roseland and Garfield Park needed this. Even with everything going on -- the Team USA basketball team with Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis arriving in town, the Nike World Basketball Festival jumping off, the Chi-League Pro-Am finals, the Air and Water Show this weekend, the Grant Park Music Festival, etc. -- the JRW team doing something this big is not only the most anticipated event happening in the city, but almost by de facto default (simply by the nature of the cloud of violence and social ignorance hanging over the city's head) is being recognized as the most important.
Will Illinois win the U.S. side of the bracket?
Incredibly, Major League Baseball players LaTroy Hawkins, Wesley Wright, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Torii Hunter donated enough money to help some of the team members' parents. Even the Chicago White Sox got in on the action with a public viewing party for Thursday's game.
Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, pledged his support as well via the city’s website:
The Jackie Robinson West All-Stars have excited an entire city with their dedication and athleticism, and everyone should have the chance to see a Chicago team play in the Little League World Series for the first time since 1983. Chicago could not be more proud to have these young men and their coaches represent our city, and as they take the field on Thursday, we want them to know an entire city will be behind them cheering them on.
On the actual field, this team wins games with a powerful offense. It was on full display in a 12-7 comeback against New Albany, Indiana that helped pave the way to Williamsport.
Expect the Illinois representatives to use that power, timely hitting and speed to rack up plenty of runs at the Little League World Series. An entire city will be behind them.
Mo’Ne Davis is an absolute force on the mound for the Taney Dragons. Davis mixes in a fastball that has been known to touch 70 mph and a deadly curve that buckles the knees of opposing hitters.
Oh, and Davis is a 13-year-old girl.
Davis registered a save in a back-and-forth 6-5 victory in the regional semifinal and then went on to pitch a three-hit shutout the next time out. The victory propelled Taney to the Little League World Series and made Davis a sensation.
Her fastball and curveball combination is almost unfair, and espnW and Sports Science broke down just how effective she is on the mound:
Taney has to be considered one of the favorites to win the entire thing due to Davis’ pitching dominance and the strong defense behind her. She strikes out plenty of batters, but when opponents do make contact the ball is often gobbled up by the fielders.
A shutdown pitcher can set the entire tone for a baseball tournament with one head-turning start. Look for Davis to do just that for Pennsylvania.
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