It is officially elimination time at the 2014 Little League World Series, and the pressure is mounting.
With two games on tap Thursday, the losers will be forced to go home. The winners will advance to the International and United States championship matches Saturday, where South Korea and Nevada are both waiting.
|Thursday, August 21||3 p.m.||Mexico vs. Japan||ESPN|
|Thursday, August 21||7:30 p.m.||Illinois vs. Pennsylvania||ESPN|
Mexico vs. Japan
Thus far at the Little League World Series, Mexico beat Canada 4-3, lost to Japan 9-5, knocked off Australia 6-2 and crushed Venezuela 11-1. Japan beat Venezuela 1-0 and lost to South Korea 4-2 in addition to that win over Mexico.
The first thing that jumps out here is the game that these two sides already played. Japan won the first one with a nine-run explosion, but that’s the only contest that its offense pushed across more than two runs.
It’s not like we are talking about a team that has simply overpowered opponents.
Mexico, on the other hand, has been red-hot at the plate since that early loss. The offense was unleashed against Venezuela and was effective in a closer win over Australia.
It would be easy to simply say Japan will win this matchup because it already knocked off Mexico once, but that would be simplifying things. Mexico’s offense is on a roll heading into Thursday’s contest and will grab an early lead in the rematch. That initial push will be enough to propel Mexico to the International championship game.
Prediction: Mexico 8, Japan 4
Illinois vs. Pennsylvania
It will be a clash of storylines when Illinois and Pennsylvania square off.
On the Pennsylvania side, we have Mo’ne Davis, who has taken the country by storm with her dominant pitching. She even inspired some admiration from celebrities like Lil Wayne and Brittney Griner:
YMCMB-Young Mo'Ne Cash Mo'Ne Baseball!!!— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) August 20, 2014
How do I get a Taney Dragons #MoNe jersey??????— Brittney Griner (@brittneygriner) August 21, 2014
As for Illinois, we have a team that is playing with an entire city behind it. Chicago has been gripped by violence for much of the summer, but it has rallied behind this Little League squad in an important moment, as Scoop Jackson of ESPNChicago.com pointed out.
Press box announcer Paul Graziano commented on the two storylines and their impact on the popularity of the event, via CBS News: “We always got good crowds on championship weekends, but I've seen more growth and more people coming now for early games. You've got two girls and a team from the inner city … I think it will just bolster [Little League].”
There will be an actual game on the field Thursday, though, and Davis will not be eligible to pitch because of her Wednesday efforts. If Pennsylvania does find a way to win, she will be available Saturday against Nevada.
That means Pennsylvania will have to find a way to overcome the trio of Pierce Jones, Marquis Jackson and Joshua Houston without its ace pitcher on the mound. Jones and Jackson in particular have absolutely mashed the baseball thus far in Williamsport and will take advantage of the situation Thursday.
Both teams lost to the offensive powerhouse that is Nevada, but Pennsylvania just fell late Wednesday night. The frustration was clearly written on the players’ faces late in that game, and there may be a carry-over impact if Pennsylvania falls behind early.
Look for just that to happen. Having Davis on the mound would greatly bolster Pennsylvania's chances, but that simply is a luxury that is not available.
Prediction: Illinois 6, Pennsylvania 2
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