There is no greater pressure in sports than a win-or-go-home scenario, even if that sport is youth baseball.
That is what the four teams taking the field Thursday at the 2014 Little League World Series will be up against. The winners of the Mexico versus Japan and Illinois versus Pennsylvania showdowns will head to the International and United States championships, but the losers will find themselves at the end of the road.
|Thursday, August 21||3 p.m.||Mexico vs. Japan||ESPN|
|Thursday, August 21||7:30 p.m.||Illinois vs. Pennsylvania||ESPN|
Pierce Jones, Illinois
Pierce Jones may just be the best power hitter in the entire Little League World Series. ESPN Stats & Info noted that he has absolutely mashed the baseball throughout the competition:
Pierce Jones: Little League World Series-leading 4th HR. Follow Illinois vs Rhode Island at http://t.co/NeTB4U4Zqf and on ESPN2— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 19, 2014
The statistics, via GameChanger (subscription required), certainly back up that notion. Jones is hitting .455 at the Little League World Series with four home runs, five RBI, six runs scored, a stolen base and a borderline-ridiculous 2.266 on-base percentage plus slugging percentage.
Who will win?
The entire city of Chicago is behind Jones and his Illinois squad, and he will look to set the tone against Pennsylvania. What’s more, he will do so against a different pitcher than the dominant Mo’ne Davis because she pitched Wednesday evening.
Look for the powerful Jones to take advantage of that opportunity and spearhead the offensive attack. Illinois jumped out to an early lead in its last contest, and it certainly helped, as manager David Butler pointed out, via John Kekis of the Daily Herald: “That was huge. I think it relaxes the team. It just makes things a lot easier when teams have to chase us.”
Pennsylvania will have to chase Illinois when Jones flashes his raw power yet again Thursday.
Mo’ne Davis, Pennsylvania
Everyone knows about Davis’ pitching prowess. It landed her on the cover of Sports Illustrated, she has done countless interviews on SportsCenter and across a number of different media platforms, and celebrities and professional baseball players have offered their support and congratulations.
She has also drawn plenty of attention from the crowds in Pennsylvania, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out Wednesday:
Attendance at Pennsylvania-Nevada game- 34,128 ...about 9,000 more fans than at the Phillies-Mariners game today— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 21, 2014
However, she allowed three runs in 2.1 innings of work in her last start against Nevada and won’t be eligible to pitch in Thursday’s do-or-die contest with Illinois.
That means Davis will have to influence the game with her bat and glove. Thus far, she is only 1-for-7 at the plate at the Little League World Series , but she does have two walks to her credit and drove in a run. One of those walks came on seven pitches in a critical moment against Nevada with multiple runners on base.
Clearly, Davis is a star because of her pitching ability (she posted two straight shutouts before Wednesday’s loss), so she may not have much of an impact Thursday. Perhaps the most important fact about Davis now is that she would be eligible to pitch Saturday if her team advances.
No pressure or anything Pennsylvania.
Joshua Houston, Illinois
Joshua Houston has worked double duty for his Illinois squad at the Little League World Series, and he has done so rather effectively.
Offensively, Houston sports a blistering .545 batting average with five RBI, two doubles and a 1.273 OPS. He has been a spark plug in a lineup that features plenty of power (see Mr. Jones above) and has helped keep a number of innings alive with timely hitting.
However, it is his pitching that has proven most valuable.
Houston has allowed a single earned run in 11 innings pitched (good enough for an unfair .545 ERA) and has 14 strikeouts. He also sports a perfect 3-0 record for good measure and has only allowed seven hits (hence, the .909 WHIP). Long story short, Houston has come into games on the mound for Illinois and thrown absolute fire.
If Illinois is going to win the United States side of things, it is going to need more of the same from Houston on both fronts.
Having a player who can contribute offensively and on the mound is critical, especially at an event in which pitch counts are so important. Houston has been exactly that for Illinois.
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