The Little League World series will officially get underway at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a slate of four games in the opening round.
This year's tournament has no international presence. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no international teams. Instead, there will be 16 American teams vying for the title. Whereas most years a team has to win their regional tournament to advance, regional runners-up were included in the field this year.
The tournament has been divided into two divisions. The Hank Aaron Championship Bracket and the Tom Seaver Championship Bracket.
Thursday's schedule features two games in each bracket. It's important to note that the tournament is double elimination in the early stages. A loss right now won't send a team home, but they will have to fight their way back into things in the consolation bracket.
Here's a look at what Day 1 will look like and predictions for each of the first four games.
Thursday, August 19
Hawaii vs. Connecticut, 1 p.m. on ESPN - Hank Aaron bracket
Tennessee vs. Ohio, 3 p.m. on ESPN - Tom Seaver bracket
Nebraska vs. New Jersey, 5 p.m. on ESPN - Hank Aaron bracket
New Hampshire vs. California, 7 p.m. on ESPN - Tom Seaver bracket
Full bracket can be found here.
The slate kicks off with Hawaii and Connecticut. Hawaii will be represented by Honolulu Little League which won the 2018 championship. There won't be any remaining members from that team, but it has a track record for producing elite teams.
Ryan Keanu emerged as a key player in the regional tournament. The West champions came out of the bracket unblemished at 4-0, and his pitching and hitting were instrumental. He had a triple, home run and eight RBI at the plate while pitching five scoreless innings.
Connecticut will be represented by Manchester Little League. It is here by virtue of being the runner-up in the New England region. Jacob Budarz was a big reason for the team's success. The shortstop and pitcher hit a home run in the team's 7-4 win that propelled them to the championship game while contributing 3.1 innings on the mound.
Hawaii should be considered the favorite in the matchup, but Connecticut's relatively short run in its regional makes it an intriguing underdog.
Prediction: Hawaii 7, Connecticut 3
The Tom Seaver bracket starts with a matchup of Southeast regional champion Tennessee taking on Great Lakes runner-up Ohio.
Tennessee went 5-1 on its way to the regional title. It has a young star in Nolan Brown who figures to be among the most prolific hitters in the tournament. He hit four dingers in the regionals, driving in 14 runs and was also dominant as a pitcher with nine scoreless innings and 11 strikeouts to his name.
Ohio started and finished slowly in its regional. It opened with a loss to Kentucky but made a run until it was defeated by Michigan in the final.
Brown and the Tennessee team were lighting up the scoreboard with their firepower at the plate. As long as the team brought those hot bats to Williamsport it should punch a ticket to the second round.
Prediction: Tennessee 8, Ohio 2
Nebraska may be the best pitching team in Williamsport. It won the Midwest regional on the back of the pitching efforts of Hunter Nepple and Kowen Rader. With a little help from Benjamin Wibbels, the team tossed a combined 29 innings with an ERA of 0.41 and 43 strikeouts.
Nebraska will be tested by the bats of New Jersey. Toms River Little League will once again be the representative from the Garden State. Carson Frazier, nephew of major leaguer Todd Frazier, and Max Mika combined to drive in 11 runs in the Mid-Atlantic regional.
Still, the pitching for Nebraska could be the key to a deep run.
Prediction: Nebraska 3, New Jersey 1
New Hampshire is the final regional champion that will be in action Thursday. It features one of the hottest lineups going into the tourney. After getting shutout in its opening game against Maine, New Hampshire put up 45 runs in four games.
Tristan Lucier is the team's most dangerous bat in the lineup. He hit .625 in the regional with three dingers.
Hoping to cool off those bats will be California. They finished as the runner-up to Hawaii in the West regional. If the California team goes with Gibson Turner on the mound it could be an epic showdown. He pitched 10 scoreless innings with 21 strikeouts and just two walks.
Prediction: New Hampshire 6, California 2