After seven days of action at the 2014 Little League World Series, we are getting down to the nitty gritty at Williamsport. Thursday will feature just two games, both elimination style, one from the international side and one from the United States.
Now is the time where you really start to see the separation between the teams. The six clubs still fighting for a championship all have flaws, but what makes them better is how they are able to hide them and accentuate their strengths.
It's going to be a difficult day to watch games because you know the heartache for losing teams is going to be shown on television. All we can hope for is the agony of defeat doesn't become the overwhelming story, since there are two teams that will feel a wave of euphoria when the final out is recorded.
|2014 Little League World Series Schedule - Day 8|
|Start Time (ET)||Matchup||Network||Live Stream||Prediction|
|3 p.m.||Mexico vs. Japan||ESPN||Watch ESPN||Japan 6, Mexico 3|
|7:30 p.m.||Pennsylvania vs. Texas||ESPN||Watch ESPN||Illinois 5, Pennsylvania 4|
Live stream can be found at WatchESPN.com by clicking here.
Japan 6, Mexico 3
There may not have been a better played game at Williamsport thus far than the Japan-South Korea matchup on Wednesday. South Korea won thanks to a late home run from Jae Yeong Hwang, but if you are just looking to see good, fundamental baseball, that was the game to watch.
That's not an accident, as ESPN's Karl Ravech said on Good Morning America. Via Rheana Murray of ABC.com, he noted before the event got started how Japan's ability to play smart baseball gave it an advantage over the field:
They are traditionally, fundamentally superior to every team you will see here. To watch them take the field, there’s a very mechanical and systematic approach they take that no one else does.
It’s like watching a ballet, and it leads to great success. They don’t make mistakes very often. Even though 12-year-old kids tend to make a lot, they don’t make many.
There's a reason that Japan has won three of the last four Little League World Series titles. The kids on that team, every year, are able to play the game with an ease you don't usually see between the ages 11-13.
Japan also has the advantage of a 9-5 victory over Mexico on August 17. It was a close game early until Japan's Shozo Kamata broke it open with a two-run single that gave the team a 7-5 lead.
Mexico's first two wins at the Little League World Series have come against Australia and Canada, whose combined record at Williamsport is 1-5. An 11-1 win over Venezuela on Tuesday was the first indication that this is a championship team.
Even though Mexico is coming off that high of dominating Venezuela, Japan's ability to do all the little things on a field will give it an advantage in this game. When in doubt, always go with the team that can catch the ball.
Illinois 5, Pennsylvania 4
We got our first indication that Mo'ne Davis is human on Wednesday when she allowed six hits and three runs in 2.1 innings against a potent Las Vegas lineup. Pennsylvania lost that game 8-1 and will have to play Illinois with the winner playing Nevada for the U.S. title on Saturday.
While Davis won't be pitching in this game, she is still going to be the star of Thursday's game because everyone is fascinated by what she can do. She's no slouch in the batter's box, recording a hit against Texas on August 17.
As ESPN Stats & Info noted on Twitter, Davis joined an exclusive club when she got that hit on Sunday:
Davis has been the best individual story of the event, but Illinois is the best team story on the U.S. side. It was a team that flew under the radar in the regionals yet is just one win away from playing for the national championship.
Chicago has embraced this group from Jackie Robinson West Little League. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune (subscription required) even noted that the team is giving people in the city hope in the greater scheme of things:
Suddenly, 13 African-American Little Leaguers have turned Chicago into America's biggest small town, a community celebrating something positive in a place with a reputation for marking victims instead of victories. ...
When Bulls star Derrick Rose told the crowd before Saturday's Team USA exhibition at the United Center that his hometown needed more positivity and less tragedy, this was what he meant. The team known as JRW represents a good start.
These kids obviously aren't going to solve all of the city's problems on their own, but if they can serve as inspiration for other kids to pick up a baseball, they've won far more than they could in Williamsport.
It also doesn't hurt that Illinois is a lot of fun to watch. Pierce Jones started the Little League World Series with three homers and a triple against Washington. Joshua Houston was terrific against Texas on Tuesday, driving in three runs and scattering five hits in five innings on the mound.
You're not going to root for either team to lose because the stories on both sides are so great, but when it comes time to make a prediction, the Illinois team has proven to be better overall than the group from Pennsylvania thus far.
If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.