The Little League World Series continues to heat up, but only one team can leave as champions.
Nevada and South Korea continued their undefeated runs with wins on Wednesday, but any of the six remaining squads still has a chance of winning the entire tournament thanks to the double-elimination format. Still, some have a tougher path than others.
While upsets are certainly possible in the coming days, here is a look at the teams most likely to bring home a title at Williamsport.
6. Guadalupe Linda Vista, Mexico
There are a number of quality hitters on this roster from Juan Garza to Luis Rodriguez to Erik Vela and others. However, consistency has been a serious problem for both the offense and the pitching.
Aside from the recent 11-1 win over Venezuela, Guadalupe has been forced to scratch and claw for every win. While Mexico clearly has one of the best teams in the world, this group is not as talented as the rest of those remaining in the tournament.
5. Tokyo Kitasuna, Japan
Takuma Takahashi has been arguably the best pitcher in this tournament, totaling 14 strikeouts in his first start and 10 in his second. He has gotten 29 outs—24 of them by strikeout.
Unfortunately, the lineup has not been able to hold up its end of the bargain. The offense scored one run in the first game and just two against South Korea. At this level, this lack of production is not going to get it done.
While Japan might make it to the International Championship, it is hard to consider it a serious contender to win it all.
4. Taney, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The best story of the Little League World Series has been female pitcher Mo'ne Davis, who was so impressive in her opening start that she earned a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated:
While the Taney Dragons are more than just Davis, her struggles in the last start hurt the entire team. After allowing three runs early against Mountain Ridge, Davis was pulled to limit her pitch count so she's still eligible to pitch in the U.S. Championship should Taney get that far. However, the team could not recover and ended up losing 8-1.
Manager Alex Rice also noted after the game that his squad has proven the ability to recover from defeat, saying, "They can handle a loss. We’ve talked about it. We know that we’re playing for Saturday. Whether we’re going to get there tonight or tomorrow, they feel very good about [potentially] playing on Saturday," via Sarah Baicker of CSNPhilly.com.
The Philadelphia squad will now have to regroup less than 24 hours later and play in an elimination game against Jackie Robinson West. This might be too much to expect from the young team.
3. Jackie Robinson West, Chicago, Illinois
While Jackie Robinson West suffered an early loss to Nevada, this group should not be forgotten. It has a deep lineup of players capable of knocking the ball out of the park and good enough athletes to cover a lot of ground in the field.
The team has been rallying since the loss and now has the confidence to get another win to put them into the United States Championship. With players like Pierce Jones, Joshua Houston and others, the team should be able to defeat Taney in the upcoming game.
2. Seoul, South Korea
The team from Seoul was struggling on Wednesday's against one of the best pitchers in the tournament, but it took South Korea's own pitcher to change the course of the game, as noted by Ben Brigandi of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette:
Dong Wan Sin and Jae Yeong Hwang also came through in the sixth inning to give Seoul the lead and eventually the win. This is something the country is used to in the Little League World Series:
The Asia-Pacific squad—the first South Korean team to make it to Williamsport since 1985—has found different ways to win in this tournament, whether it has been with great offense or pitching. This ability to make plays when it counts has helped this become the best international team in Williamsport.
1. Mountain Ridge, Las Vegas, Nevada
This team hits well, pitches well and fields well. Mountain Ridge pulled away late against Taney in Wednesday's game, earning an 8-1 victory to secure a spot in the United States Championship. Amazingly, this is the closest the squad has come to losing in this tournament.
The Las Vegas team has outscored opponents 33-5 while earning two mercy-rule wins in three games.
Manager Ashton Cave was also proud of his team's ability to handle the pressure of the situation, via John Kekis of The Associated Press (h/t ABC News):
The crowd got to us at times. It was hard to communicate. That's a big weight to carry on a 13-year-old's shoulders what goes on publicly. They definitely deserve the attention that they get, but we have the first Nevada team in history in 75 years to make it to this point. To come through and do what we've done, we're just definitely making a mark.
Nevada will now await the winner of Pennsylvania and Illinois, two teams it has already beaten. With the way this group has been beating teams, it does not seem like a loss is coming anytime soon.
All statistics and info courtesy of LLBWS.org unless otherwise specified.
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