The Little League World Series is down to four teams, and two of them will be crowned champions on Saturday.
After a day off on Friday, the action will return to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with two highly anticipated games. Japan will get a chance at redemption against South Korea in the International Championship after staying alive against Mexico.
In the United States Championship, Nevada will try to remain undefeated with a second win against Illinois.
Things get even more important with the winners of these matchups set to compete for the world title. While all the players deserve plenty of respect for getting to this point, it is clear they all want to go home as champions.
However, they must first get into the finals by surviving what should be a thrilling day of baseball.
|LLWS Day 8 Results (August 21)|
|LLWS - Day 9 Schedule (August 23)|
|South Korea vs. Japan||12:30 p.m.||ABC||Lamade Stadium|
|Nevada vs. Illinois||3:30 p.m.||ABC||Lamade Stadium|
A full bracket is available courtesy of LittleLeague.org.
South Korea vs. Japan
When these two teams played each other on Wednesday, ESPN's Karl Ravech wanted to make sure this matchup was not overlooked:
South Korea came through with the 4-2 victory thanks to two runs in the sixth inning, earning a spot in the International Championship. Hae Chan Choi showed his power at the plate and skill on the mound, and the squad is hoping he will be able to repeat this success in the next game.
However, Japan showcased their power as well in their 12-1 win over Mexico. Suguru Kanamori was the most impressive hitter on the day, as noted by Ben Brigandi of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette:
The team from Tokyo scored in every inning to secure a mercy-rule win in the fifth inning.
Still, things will be much more difficult in the rematch against South Korea. No matter who is on the mound, the pitcher will likely cause problems for an offense that has been inconsistent throughout the tournament.
Seoul have also remained undefeated so far thanks to the ability to come through with big hits when they are most important. If this continues, the group will be extremely tough to beat.
Japan have arguably the best pitcher in the tournament in Takuma Takahashi, but it will take more than that to come through with an international title.
Nevada vs. Illinois
Mountain Ridge has been nothing short of dominant over the first three games in Williamsport. The Las Vegas squad has three wins by a combined score of 33-5, including two mercy-rule wins.
Austin Kryszczuk, who has been one of the toughest players to get out in this tournament, spoke about the thrill of playing for a national title to Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Being in Saturday’s game and playing for a U.S. championship is unbelievable. I’ve watched the Little League World Series since I was 5, always seeing how the U.S. teams fight to get to that moment. To know myself and 13 other guys are going to be in that game ... hopefully, we can get the victory against whoever we play.
ESPN's Stuart Scott joked earlier in the week about how good Kryszczuk and the rest of the Nevada squad have been in this tournament:
Despite the previous success, though, it will take one more win to earn a United States title and have a chance at the world title. That victory will have to come against a team it has already beaten in Illinois.
Jackie Robinson West were embarrassed in their second-round game against Mountain Ridge, losing 13-2 in four innings. However, they have come back strong with three wins in a row while excelling in all phases of the game.
Joshua Houston had the big hit in the latest win over Philadelphia—part of an outstanding run in this tournament, as noted by Chris Masse of the Williamsport Post-Gazette:
Additionally, this team features plenty more big hitters like Trey Hondras and Pierce Jones.
The question is if anyone is capable of slowing down the lineup from Las Vegas. This could end up being a high-scoring battle, but a few key plays defensively will end up deciding the winner.
All statistics and info courtesy of LLBWS.org unless otherwise specified.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.