It's hard to fathom the amount of pressure some of the kids participating in Day 10 of the 2014 Little League World Series must feel. Sure, they are actual kids playing a child's game, but the large crowds and peering television cameras surely must have an impact on how the youngsters fare in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Then again, the four teams remaining are some of the best young ballplayers the world has to offer, so perhaps they are just cut from a different cloth than the rest of the general populace.
Teenagers (and pre-teens) from Japan, South Korea, Illinois and Nevada will be on the global stage on Saturday in what should be an entertaining end to bracket play at this edition of the Little League World Series.
Here is the schedule and television information for Saturday's finals.
|2014 Little League World Series Day 10: Schedule, TV Info|
|Date||Time (ET)||Matchup||Bracket||TV Info|
|August 23||12:30 p.m.||Chicago, Illinois vs. Las Vegas, Nevada||United States||ABC|
|August 23||3:30 p.m.||Seoul, South Korea vs. Tokyo, Japan||International||ABC|
Chicago, Illinois vs. Las Vegas, Nevada
Chicago, Illinois' Jackie Robinson West defeated Mo'ne Davis and Taney Youth 6-5 to reach the United States finals. It's a sensational run for the all-black squad from Chicago's South Side, and manager Darold Butler had a message for the fans back home after his team finally dispatched Taney Youth.
"Keep cheering," Butler said Thursday, via a report from ESPN.com. "We hear you. It's working. Make it louder."
The team has no shortage of support back in the Windy City. They've even grabbed the attention of the mayor, Rahm Emanuel:
This team is an excellent 4-1 heading into the final. Unfortunately, their only slip-up came against their opponents in the final, the uber-dangerous Mountain Ridge Little League squad from Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jackie Robinson West lost that contest by a final score of 13-2, which underscores the dominant performances that Las Vegas has put up all tournament long.
They've outscored their opponents 33-5 over the course of three games. In light of that fact, Jackie Robinson West almost becomes a Cinderella story, despite their own string of strong performances. The team benefits from some fairly advantageous training for a group of such excitable youngsters.
According to Caroline Bleakley of CBS 8 News Now, batting instructor Jason Pagan keeps plenty of stats on the kids, including bat speed and angle.
"I did that the first day. I saw the range of numbers and I went to the coaches and said this team is a special team," Pagan said, via Bleakley. Clearly, the intensive instruction and watchful eye of Pagan has paid off.
That level of coaching and ability may seem like an insurmountable task for the kids from Chicago, but they can count on any number of players to step up in this contest.
Pierce Jones hit three home runs in a 12-2 victory over Lynnwood Pacific, and Trey Hondras notched three RBI in a one-run victory against Cumberland American of Rhode Island. Joshua Houston has also proven to be an effective pitcher, recording seven strikeouts in four innings of work against Lynnwood.
Mountain Ridge has been an undeniable force of nature in this Little League tournament. Jackie Robinson West will make it much tougher in this go-around, but in the end the team from the desert will represent the entire nation in the Little League World Series final.
Prediction: Nevada 6-4 Illinois
Seoul, South Korea vs. Tokyo, Japan
These two international baseball giants from the edge of the Pacific Rim will send Little Leaguers from their respective capital cities for one more clash in this highly entertaining tournament.
In an upset of the usual pecking order, South Korea defeated Japan 4-2 on August 20 to head straight to the finals of the international bracket. Jae Yeong Hwang was the hero in that contest. He hit the go-ahead homer for South Korea in the sixth inning of the ballgame.
The shocking loss forced Japan into a win-or-go-home contest with Mexico, which they won rather handily by a score of 12-1. Suffice it to say, these kids know when to buckle down and play their best baseball.
South Korea should have no illusions about how tough it is to beat Japan at a game they have dominated for so many years—Japan has won 12 international finals since 1976, including the last four in a row—and will consider themselves fortunate to break such a formidable string of success.
"For a long time, we have been educated that when we play Japan, it will be a big rivalry," Hwang said on Wednesday, via The Associated Press (h/t Charlotte Observer).
Then again, South Korea has yet to lose in the Little League World Series; Seoul produced back-to-back champions in the 1985-1986 tournaments.
This game could very well hinge on whomever Japan sends out on the mound. Takuma Takahashi may get the call again after pitching 3.2 innings against South Korea on Wednesday. Takahashi recorded an astonishing 10 of his 11 outs via strikeout in that contest. No surprise, considering the young phenom notched 14 Ks against Venezuela earlier in the tournament.
Still, South Korea pitcher Hae Chan Choi managed to help out his own cause against Takahashi with a two-run homer, so there is hope if he trots out on the mound again.
His arm should be fairly well rested by Saturday, but it may be difficult for him to pitch the entire game. This should give Seoul an opportunity to pull out another late victory if Takashi falters or they need to bring in another pitcher.
Prediction: South Korea 5-4 Japan