Two champions emerge Saturday at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, as the International and U.S. championships crown winners and provide passes to the Little League World Series Championship Sunday.
The first of two Day 9 affairs saw two juggernauts of the Pacific Rim square off in what proved to be a lopsided affair, as South Korea pulled off the upset against a historically dominant Japan to punch a ticket to the final thanks to a seven-run outburst in the second inning.
Nevada and Illinois finish off the day's action in a title game that figures to be more competitive thanks to a strong balance of offense and defense from both sides.
Let's take a look at how the action unfolded to mold what is sure to be a can't-miss title matchup.
Day 9 Scores
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You can view an updated Little League World Series bracket here.
Day 9 Recap
South Korea 12, Japan 3
For a team that has laid claim to eight international titles over the course of its prestigious history and has won three of the last four tournaments, Japan looked anything but up to task Saturday.
To be fair, Japan had already lost to South Korea in a pitcher-heavy 4-2 affair Wednesday despite Takuma Takahashi's 10 strikeouts in 3.2 innings. But the team seemed back to form with its back to the wall in its next game, needing just five innings to stave off Mexico, 12-1.
Saturday's championship game was lucky to make it to the third inning.
South Korea came out firing on all cylinders in the top of the second frame and acted as a model of efficiency by posting seven runs on just three hits. Dong Wan Sin drove in three runs and Hae Chan Choi added two RBI of his own.
Japan did not go away without a fight, though. After the second-inning debacle, Suguru Kanamori took the mound and went 4.1 innings and fanned nine batters. The offense posted a run in the fourth and two more in the bottom of the fifth.
That said, two home runs in the top of the sixth for South Korea effectively ended things. As mentioned, the buzzword was efficiency—the winning side saw 11 different players score its 12 runs.
Jae Yeong Hwang was once again great on the mound, striking out four in two innings of work. The aforementioned Choi and Sin wound up with three RBI apiece to lead all batters.
It is clear South Korea stuck to its guns in terms of strategy, as Hwang had emphasized after his team's initial win over Japan that the team takes the matchup very seriously:
"For a long time, we have been educated that when we play Japan, it will be a big rivalry," Hwang said, per The Associated Press, via the Charlotte Observer.
South Korea will encounter the winner of the Nevada-Illinois tilt Sunday in a matchup that figures to parallel the hype thanks to the obvious explosiveness of each lineup, which is only counteracted by the ability of one player on the mound to dictate the outcome.
It is a rather fitting way to end one of the sporting world's best events.
Illinois 7, Nevada 5
The South Side of Chicago is the epicenter of baseball in the United States again.
The group from Jackie Robinson West pulled off the biggest upset of the U.S. half of the bracket on Saturday, beating Nevada, 7-5, win win the U.S. championship.
Mountain Ridge had won its three previous LLWS games by a combined score of 33-5. On the Road to Williamsport, the team went 6-0, outscoring the opposition 54-15. Nevada was nothing short of a juggernaut.
These teams met earlier in the tournament on Aug. 17. Mountain Ridge won, 13-2.
Indeed it looked like Nevada would win in another blowout after it dropped three runs in the top of the first inning to grab a 3-0 lead.
Illinois stormed back into the game a half-inning later after Trey Hondras home run made it a one-run game, 3-2, in the bottom of the first, per SportsCenter:
Marquis Jackson scored on an RBI single to tie the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the first.
In the bottom of the second, Hondras was once again the offensive spark for Chicago, driving in Cameron Bufford to take a 4-3 lead.
Illinois clung to that lead heading into the top of the fifth inning. With one swing of the bat, though, Brad Stone gave the lead back to Nevada with a two-run home run to right field. His heroics caught the attention of four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux:
With one hand on the U.S. title, Nevada let the game slip away a half-inning later. Illinois scored three runs to take a 7-5 lead, which it held onto in the sixth and final inning.
Mountain Ridge unraveled after Austin Kryszczuk came on in relief of Brennan Holligan. With runners on first and second with one out, Joshua Houston hit a single which scored the tying run and put the go-ahead runner on third.
Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal thought that you couldn't heap too much blame upon Kryszczuk, who was dealing with a shoulder issue:
A fielder's choice allowed Illinois to score the go-ahead run and then an error by Kryszczuk let in another run, making it a 7-5 game.
Chicago shut the door in the sixth to win the U.S. championship. This is the double play that ended the game, via Jordan Banks on Vine.
Illinois will meet South Korea in the 2014 Little League World Series Championship tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET. Nevada and Japan play in the third-place game at 10 a.m. ET.
Note: All statistics and info courtesy of LLBWS.org unless otherwise specified.