The 2014 Little League World Series has been yet another sterling reminder of the joy and purity to be found in youth sports, even when one becomes a national media star.
It was tough watching Mo'ne Davis and the Taney Youth Dragons bow out of the tournament after such a scintillating run. Davis was a truly sensational player to watch, sporting a confident approach and steely gaze that few 13-year-olds are capable of mustering, especially with the extra media attention.
One national hero is going home early, but that doesn't mean there will be a lack of talented youngsters to watch in the tournament's remaining contests.
Jackie Robinson West (Chicago, Illinois) features quite a few wonderful young players from the Windy City, while its opponents from Las Vegas, Nevada, have proved to be the most terrifying team in the tournament thus far. In the international bracket, there is at least one player you won't want to miss when Japan takes on South Korea for the right to go to the Little League World Series final.
Here is the remaining tournament schedule, followed by a quick rundown of some cool kids to keep an eye on in the bracket finals.
|Date||Time (ET)||Game||Matchup||TV Info||Live Stream|
|August 23||12:30 p.m.||International Championship||Tokyo, Japan vs. Seoul, South Korea||ABC||N/A|
|August 23||3:30 p.m.||US Championship||Chicago, Illinois vs. Las Vegas, Nevada||ABC||N/A|
|August 24||10 a.m.||Third-place Game||TBD||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|August 24||3 p.m.||World Series Championship||TBD||ABC||N/A|
Austin Kryszczuk, P/C/1B/OF, Mountain Ridge (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Considering the fact that Mountain Ridge has put up a staggering 33 runs in three games on its way to the United States bracket championship game against Jackie Robinson West, it may seem a bit silly to single out a lone player from the pint-sized lineup. But if you had to pick just one, Austin Kryszczuk would be your guy.
The burgeoning ballplayer and copy editor's nightmare has made significant contributions to each of his team's three victorious efforts so far.
Kryszczuk has quite the arm for a Little Leaguer. He posted six strikeouts in 2.2 innings pitched against Rapid City, South Dakota. He followed up that performance with another six Ks in three innings of work against Taney Youth.
He was instrumental at the plate in his squad's 13-2 demolition of Jackie Robinson West, notching three hits, three RBI and a walk in just four innings of dominating play. His superb play is a byproduct of just how seriously he takes the game of baseball at such a young age.
"Other kids will be running around having fun and doing other stuff, and Austin just sits and stares at the pro guys hitting, making all sorts of mental notes," said Andy Concepcion, a coach who has worked with the young star, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Ed Graney.
If Mountain Ridge puts up another dominating victory over Jackie Robinson West on Saturday, don't be surprised if Kryszczuk is a big reason why.
Josh Houston, P/C/3B/OF, Jackie Robinson West (Chicago, Illinois)
Jackie Robinson West has featured quite a few standout youngsters during its time in the Little League spotlight. Pierce Jones grabbed the national spotlight with three home runs in one game, while Cam Bufford notched a grand slam in qualifying for this tournament in Pennsylvania.
However, there is one player who consistently does it all for the team from Chicago, Illinois, and that's Josh Houston.
The young utilityman is a threat both as a pitcher and at the plate. He tossed five innings of one-run ball in his team's win over Pearland, Texas, and supported his own cause with three RBI in that game. In the team's narrow one-run victory over Cumberland, Rhode Island, Houston notched three hits while also taking over duties on the mound for two innings.
"We don’t lose to teams and not repay them,” Butler said, via Skrbina. “We want revenge. We’re gonna stick to the script. Don’t be surprised if we win that game tomorrow. I won’t be."
If this team is to make it past the juggernaut that is Mountain Ridge of Las Vegas, Nevada, it will need a standout performance from Houston both on the mound and in the batter's box.
Takuma Takahashi, P/OF, Japan
Let's hope this guy takes the mound again Saturday. Takahashi is a force of nature when he's called upon to pitch, putting up numbers that would bewilder any scorekeeper in any league in the world.
Which of these three players is the best pitcher remaining?
Against Venezuela in the opening round of the tournament, Takahashi racked up 14 strikeouts in a six-inning shutout. He was under a certain amount of duress in that game, as his teammates only afforded him one lone run in the third inning.
He was breathtaking again in Japan's 4-2 loss to South Korea, striking out 10 batters in just 3.2 innings pitched. He did give up a two-run home run in that contest, but when Takahashi is on, he's nearly untouchable.
Graney joked that the Los Angeles Dodgers might have taken a long look at this kid at some point:
Takahashi is no slouch at the plate, either. He racked up two hits in Japan's 12-1 victory over Mexico and scratched out a hit in the nail-biter against Venezuela.
Still, it's his pitching that could truly become the stuff of legend against South Korea. The team rested his arm against Mexico, so there is a good chance that he takes the mound on Saturday. If he does, look out.