The 2021 Little League World Series wrapped up Round 1 of the competition Friday in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with the typical format altered to include just 16 American teams this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Texas was among the big winners Friday, blanking Washington 6-0, thanks in large part to the historic play of Ella Bruning.
Little League @LittleLeague
Ella Bruning on leading her team tonight:“It felt really good, because it wasn’t expected, because I’m not the best hitter. Those were were my first two hits of the season…don’t tell anyone.” [is reminded that she had another hit] Ella: “Pshhh that was a dinker.” https://t.co/n93KzOtGcG
The only girl in this year's competition and just the 20th to participate in the tournament, Bruning wasted no time establishing her presence by scoring the first run of the game. In all, she tallied two hits and an RBI, but the humble Texan brushed off any acclaim after the game.
"It felt really good because it wasn't expected because I'm not the best hitter," she told the media following the game. "Those were my first two hits of the season. Don't tell anyone."
The teams playing Saturday were unlucky to not have a Bruning on their rosters, with each losing its first game. Play in the elimination bracket headlines Saturday's slate.
Tennessee vs. New Hampshire, 1 p.m., on ESPN
Connecticut vs. New Jersey, 3 p.m., on ABC
Florida vs. Washington, 6 p.m., on ESPN
Pennsylvania vs. Louisiana, 8 p.m., on ESPN
Tennesse vs. New Hampshire
Tennessee struggled to score against Ohio in their first game of the tournament, losing 1-0. New Hampshire, meanwhile, gave up 10 runs to California. Something's got to give in the first game of the elimination bracket.
Neither team is out of the title hunt, but it will be increasingly difficult for to make the arduous climb out of the elimination bracket and into the championship game playing like they did in their first matchups.
New Hampshire pitcher Mason DeVall is the son of head coach Tim and was masterful in the New England region, pitching 10 innings and retiring 22 batters without giving up a run. A performance like that Saturday—and if Tennessee's hitting struggles continue—should earn New Hampshire the win.
Prediction: New Hampsire
Connecticut vs. New Jersey
Connecticut committed four errors in their opening game of the tournament against Hawaii en route to a 9-1 loss. The New Jersey team, out of Toms River, fought valiantly to climb out of a 4-0 hole against Nebraska but fell short 5-2.
The shellacking Connecticut suffered in a game it was never competitive in will be tough for that young team to overcome. It will have its opportunity, but the players out of Toms River showed a ton of heart in battling back in that Nebraska loss and should be able to pick up their first victory of this year's tournament Saturday.
Prediction: New Jersey
Florida vs. Washington
Florida was never in their first game of the tournament, losing to Michigan 8-0. The Martin County team was dismantled by dominant pitching and never had an answer offensively. It appears to be more of the rule than the exception following a 10-3 loss to Tennessee earlier in August that included giving up 10 runs in the fifth inning of that matchup.
Sammamish, Washington's team, gave up six runs in six innings off of six different pitchers. Its woes on the mound will make it difficult for the team to claw its way back into championship contention.
Fortunately, it plays a team facing similar struggles.
Pennsylvania vs. Louisiana
The first Pennsylvania team to make the Little League since the 2015 championship-winning Red Land did not fare quite as well as its predecessor, dropping its first game against Oregon 8-2. Three of those runs came off a single shot, but the team still has work to put in defensively if it hopes to keep alive its championship aspirations.
Louisiana suffered the greatest indignity to start the tournament. The Lafayette-based team was no-hit by South Dakota on Friday, with its offense nonexistent against a team that could well win the tournament.
It will have the opportunity to tally its first score of the tournament against a Pennyslvania team looking for answers, but the deflating reality of its first game may prove too much for the young squad to overcome. Pennsylvania, fueled by home state expectations, should earn the win in the night's final matchup.