After eight days of games at the 2014 Little League World Series, we have reached the final mountain for four teams to climb. Saturday serves as both a coronation and stepping stone for the two winners.
I like to call the penultimate day of games at Williamsport "Championship Saturday." It may not be the most inventive name, but it certainly fits. The first game on the schedule between South Korea and Japan will decide the international champion, while the United States title will be a battle between Las Vegas and Chicago.
Regardless of who wins, both games figure to be compelling because of what we know about these teams and everything that is at stake. Below, we have a look at the schedule for both games, predictions and what to watch on Saturday.
|2014 Little League World Series Schedule - Day 9|
|Start Time (ET)||Matchup||Network||Live Stream||Prediction|
|12:30 p.m.||World Championship: South Korea vs. Japan||ABC||ESPN3.com||Japan 4, South Korea 3|
|3:30 p.m.||U.S. Championship: Las Vegas vs. Chicago||ABC||ESPN3.com||Las Vegas 8, Chicago 6|
Japan 4, South Korea 3
Of the two games on Saturday, Japan-South Korea is going to be the one you watch knowing that it will be crisp and clean on both sides. South Korea has steamrolled the competition thus far, going 3-0 including a victory over Japan on Wednesday thanks to a sixth-inning homer from Jae Yeong Hwang.
If you want to look at the bigger picture, South Korea figures to be the favorite to win the Little League World Series based on history. According to ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter, the team has never lost a game at Williamsport:
That record can be upgraded to 9-0 since ESPN released it following South Korea's victory over Puerto Rico on August 17.
Despite all the evidence suggesting South Korea will win, including that win over Japan, something about the Tokyo squad is calling out. The team could have fallen apart after Wednesday's loss, but wound up destroying Mexico, 12-1, on Thursday.
Pitching is the great equalizer at any level of baseball. Japan has done it as well as any club you will find, starting with Takuma Takahashi's one-hit, 14-strikeout performance in the opener against Venezuela.
South Korea only had two runs going into the final inning of the game against Japan, so the lineup didn't have a distinct advantage in that game. These teams play defense and run the bases smarter than anyone else, so it all comes down to the pitching.
It's going to be close, but Japan gets the slight edge and redemption for that loss 72 hours ago.
Las Vegas 8, Chicago 6
The United States title game is going to feel like a rock concert—especially when compared to the jazz-like precision of the first game. Las Vegas has been on an incredible run, made all the more surprising due to the fact no team from Nevada ever made it to Williamsport before this year.
Even with Mo'ne Davis being the story of the tournament, Las Vegas' potent lineup didn't crumble on Wednesday night in an 8-1 win. It was the third straight game the team scored at least eight runs, outscoring its opponents 33-5 so far.
Prior to the game against Pennsylvania, ESPN Stats & Info noted on Twitter that three of Nevada's batters were hitting at least .800, and five players were hitting .429 or better:
Chicago is one of the teams that Las Vegas has left in its wake thus far, knocking off one of this year's feel-good stories, 13-2. There's some part of you that can't help but root for the kids from Jackie Robinson West Little League because of the hope they are inspiring in an area of Illinois that David Haugh of The Chicago Tribune wrote is known for a hefty crime rate.
That's not to say the Chicago team isn't talented. Before Nevada started pounding everyone into submission, Chicago's Pierce Jones was hitting three home runs in a game.
However, until someone proves to have the pitching capable of shutting down Nevada, how do you bet against what that team is doing right now? This game will be closer than the first meeting these two clubs had, but the result will still be the same.