The 2014 Little League World Series has wowed with back-and-forth thrillers since the opening day of action, and it's only getting better as the tournament nears its end.
Saturday's slate featured both of the semifinal affairs—the U.S. championship between Nevada and Illinois and the international final pegging Asia-Pacific against Japan. With only one American and one international spot up for grabs in Sunday's final, the action was intense from start to finish.
The Day 9 results set up a dazzling championship game between Saturday's winners and an all-important consolation affair between the semifinal losers.
Let's break down Saturday's results and what Day 10 will look like.
|Aug. 24||10 a.m.||World Championship||Illinois vs. South Korea|
|Aug. 24||3 p.m.||3rd-Place Game||Nevada vs. Japan|
|International Championship||South Korea 12, Japan 3|
|U.S. Championship||Illinois 7, Nevada 5|
Day 9 Results
South Korea 12, Japan 3
As Japan's showing in the 2014 Little League World Series wore on, there was an increasing feeling of inevitability that it was well on its way to repeating as world champion.
South Korea had other ideas.
The Asia-Pacific region winners cruised to a 12-3 victory in Saturday's international championship, taking an early lead that the defending champs were never able to erase and putting it on cruise control late.
The winners got off to a high-flying start, racking up seven runs in the second inning alone. As if that wasn't impressive enough, they came off just two hits, as untimely walks dug Japan into an early hole.
After easily closing the matter in the sixth inning, South Korea continued rolling, as ESPN Stats and Information observed:
South Korea now 10-0 all-time in LLWS play after 12-3 win over Japan. That's the 4th-largest win by any team over Japan in LLWS (all-time)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 23, 2014
Japan simply couldn't make up the massive early deficit it faced.
"We couldn't stop their momentum, and we had an unlucky situation," Japan manager Junji Hidaka said, per The Associated Press via ESPN.
South Korea seems to have Japan's number as of late. Not only did it just hang one of the worst defeats Japan has ever endured at the LLWS, but it came three days after South Korea defeated Japan 4-2 to advance to this game.
Japan made a resilient run to try and defend its title and nearly made it all the way but just couldn't overcome its continental rivals. Instead, it will be South Korea representing the international bracket in what should be a thrilling final against the team from Chicago.
Illinois 7, Nevada 5
This Little League World Series, especially on the U.S. side, has been a never-ending series of ebbs and flows. It's only fitting that the U.S. title game ended in such a manner.
Jackie Robinson West of Chicago completed its improbable run to the American championship, taking a late lead to defeat the hot bats of Nevada in a thrilling finish, 7-5.
Nevada, winners of the West region, got off to a strong start as usual by leading 3-0 early. But Trey Hondras of Illinois changed that with a single swing. His two-run homer made it a one-run game, and Illinois tied it up at 3-3 before the first inning ended.
It continued to go back and forth, with Illinois taking a 4-3 lead before Nevada hit a two-run bomb to take a slim lead heading into the bottom of the fifth.
Then came the winning rally. Illinois put two runners on base early, spurring a pitching change and taking advantage of the switch by grabbing a 7-5 lead. From that point, all it took was one more inning of quelling the Nevada bats, and the team did just that to advance to Sunday's final.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel tweeted his approval of the local heroes:
US CHAMPIONS! WAY TO GO, #JRW!— Rahm Emanuel (@RahmEmanuel) August 23, 2014
Illinois came into Saturday's game with one loss on its record, while Nevada entered undefeated. But it didn't matter, with the one game deciding who would represent the U.S. against the international champ.
Jackie Robinson West will be glad not to see the defending champions Japan in the final, but South Korea is posing as an even bigger threat after two wins over Japan. Furthermore, the South Koreans won their only other two trips to the final in 1984 and 1985.
But fate has been on Illinois' side throughout this tournament. If that's the case for six more innings, the Chicagoans will be world champions.