Then there were four.
Little League baseball will have its version of Final Four Saturday when the International and United States championship games take place in doubleheader fashion. Japan knocked off Mexico Thursday to set up a date with South Korea, while Illinois eliminated Mo’ne Davis and Pennsylvania to qualify for a rematch with Nevada.
|Saturday, August 23||South Korea vs. Japan||12:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Saturday, August 23||Nevada vs. Illinois||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
South Korea vs. Japan
Japan handled the win-or-go-home pressure of Thursday’s contest with Mexico in incredible fashion and won 12-1. Suguru Kanamori led the way with two home runs, and Hayato Ueshima started the offense off with a leadoff homer.
Ueshima’s blast was actually Japan’s first long ball of the tournament, and it only added on from there before eventually winning by the mercy rule. Japan lost to South Korea 4-2 earlier in the tournament but will have a chance at revenge Saturday.
Japan’s offense has been hit-or-miss throughout the Little League World Series, as it scored 21 of its 24 runs in just two games. However, it has some momentum on its side after the offensive explosion Thursday that it should carry into Saturday’s matchup.
As for South Korea, the last two victories (8-5 over Puerto Rico and 4-2 over Japan) have been close, and there is reason to be concerned with Japan. Japan’s dangerous offense may have come to life during Thursday’s high-pressure showdown, which spells trouble for South Korea.
The thought here is that Japan’s momentum carries over into Saturday. Japan will seize an early lead and then close the door to reach the championship game against the United States.
Prediction: Japan 8, South Korea 4
Illinois vs. Nevada
Fans who enjoy offense will appreciate this matchup between two powerhouse machines.
Illinois’ only loss of the tournament came at the hands of Nevada, and if the team from Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West wants to make the championship in its first Little League World Series appearance in 31 years, it is going to have to find a way to slow down Nevada’s red-hot bats.
Nevada destroyed Illinois 13-2 in four innings behind five home runs in the first matchup and has scored 33 runs in three contests. What’s more impressive is the fact that two of those games were shortened because of the mercy rule.
The only team that stayed relatively close to Nevada was Pennsylvania, and it lost 8-1 after a rough final inning.
Illinois coach Darold Butler discussed his team's first meeting with Nevada, via ESPN.com: "It [the lopsided loss] woke us up. The kids have been more focused, and today's game showed how focused we were. We had a lot of adversity. They find a way to get it done, and it's always a new guy."
Nevada does more than just hit, though, as SportsCenter noted from the game with Pennsylvania:
Pierce Jones from Illinois and Austin Kryszczuk from Nevada are the two power hitters for each lineup. Jones hit three homers in one game earlier in the event, and Kryszczuk belted two homers against Illinois.
However, Illinois has received timely production from Trey Hondras and Joshua Houston, among others, and Brad Stone hit a grand slam for Nevada in the first matchup between these two squads.
While Houston did hit a critical two-run single in Illinois’ 6-5 victory over Pennsylvania Thursday, his pitching has been even more critical at the Little League World Series. He is a perfect 3-0, has allowed a single run in 11 innings and sports 14 strikeouts.
If Houston pitches, something will have to give between his performances and Nevada’s offense. The thought here is that this one unfolds in similar fashion to Nevada’s victory over Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania kept the game close throughout the contest with solid pitching, but Nevada eventually exploded in the last inning.
This offense is simply too good to be contained for an entire game.
Prediction: Nevada 7, Illinois 4
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