August 19 - With its win yesterday, Loudoun South American enters its second week in Williamsport, PA as one of just four unbeaten teams at the Little League World Series.
The Southeastern Region champions get two days off before facing Wailuku, HI - the West Region champion - on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN. They’ll put an 18-game winning streak on the line while bidding to become the third team from Virginia to advance to the United States championship game. No team from the state has advanced to the LLWS championship game.
Loudoun South American manager Alan Bowden has encouraged his team to enjoy the experience throughout its run this summer, and the kids from South Riding have excelled while embracing the moment. In yesterday’s 11-0 win over Coon Rapids, MN - a game attended by 15,447 fans at historic Howard J. Lamade Stadium - they became just the sixth team in LLWS history to throw back-to-back no-hitters, doing so in front of players from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were in town for the Little League Classic later in the day against the Chicago Cubs.
“You’ve got to play well, you’ve got to execute, and you’ve got to have a little bit of luck to get through the district, to get through state, to get through region,” Bowden said. “And we’ve had that, so to get to come out and get two wins, yeah, we’re absolutely elated.”
The winner of tomorrow’s game will advance to Saturday’s U.S. final at 3:30 p.m., while the loser will play in an elimination game on Thursday at 7 p.m. The LLWS final is on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Loudoun South’s Dangerous Lineup Applying Constant Pressure
Opposing pitchers haven’t gotten much of a break this summer when facing Loudoun South American’s hitters, and that was again the case in yesterday’s win.
The top five hitters in the team’s lineup - Chase Obstgarten, Brady Yates, Justin Lee, Colton Hicks and Liam Thyen - were a combined 7-for-9 with three walks and 10 RBI. They’ve applied constant pressure on opposing pitchers as the team has hit .420 in its 20 games together.
Lee has gotten the most attention - and deservedly so, considering his gaudy .617 batting average with 15 homers and 36 RBI - but the others have also had signature moments during the run to and at Williamsport. Obstgarten hit a two-run walk-off double to beat Peachtree, GA in the regional semifinals, Yates’ two-run homer powered a 3-0 World Series-opening win over Barrington, R.I., and Hicks followed a Lee’s round-tripper with one of his own as the team pulled away in the region final.
Yesterday, it was Thyen who shined, driving in five runs.
“I feel that we are a very good-hitting team, and from top-to-bottom, everyone can hit and everyone contributes,” Thyen said. “Our 1-2-3 batters always get on and they always get big hits in big moments.”
Hicks has enjoyed hitting in the middle of the potent lineup: “We’re really fortunate to have guys all around who can hit,” the second baseman said. “And people can get on and a pitcher can leave a ball over the plate, and I just try to get contact and maybe get lucky and get a few hits.
“Keep moving guys around the bases.”
Scouting Wednesday’s Opponent: Central East Maui
The team from Wailuku, HI knocked off last year’s LLWS champions, Honolulu, in a playback game for the state championship and hasn’t lost since. They’re 12-1 overall and have won seven straight.
Two-way threat Jaren Pascual hit a three-run homer that proved to be the difference in the West Region championship game, and he’s 8-for-15 with two homers and eight RBI over the six games since the beginning of their region tournament. Pascual went six innings to earn the win in Friday’s 5-2 win over River Ridge, LA, and with ace Logan Kuloloia unavailable after throwing 61 pitches yesterday, Loudoun South American is likely to see Pascual with chief reliever Isaac Imamura behind him.
The Hawaiians don’t boast an overly-explosive offense - they’re hitting over 130 points lower than Loudoun South American during regionals and the LLWS - but they’re very effective on the mound and in the field. They’ve posted a 1.62 ERA and have made just five errors over the past six games.
Familiarity Helps Keep Coaches, Players on Same Page
A big reason for Loudoun South American’s success is the familiarity between its players and coaches.
Bowden had 10 of the 13 players on his team that won the 11-year-old state championship last summer, and many have played on his Loudoun South Eagles youth travel teams.
That has helped the team’s chemistry during their two months together and has helped Bowden and his assistants, Brian Triplett and Keith Yates, make adjustments at key points in games that All-Star coaches without much history with their players might miss. That was the case yesterday, when Bowden caught a minor flaw in Lee’s delivery during his four-inning no-hitter against the Midwest Region champs.
“I know his tendencies, and when he leaks a little bit on his front side that the ball isn’t going to stay true,” said Bowden, who has coached Lee for a number of years with the Eagles. “What I was basically telling him was, ‘Lead with that front hip right into the catcher’s glove, along with his elbow, and follow through straight down that mound’. And that’s something we will preach with all of our pitchers.
“I just reminded him to remain fluid and keep that front side in, and when he does that, he has very good command.”
Notes: The strongest team in the international bracket looks to be Chofu City, Tokyo, the Japanese champions. They have posted back-to-back shutouts and outscored those opponents 25-0 … Bowden will have his entire staff available again tomorrow and has confidence even if he has to reach into his bullpen this week. “We’ve got five or six guys that can win big games, we really do,” he said. “I know we’ve really leaned on Justin or Liam thus far, but they can really throw it. We’ve got a lot of guys who can pitch, and we know we can go to our [bullpen] if we need to.” … The team appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter earlier tonight.
Photo of Justin Lee, left, and manager Alan Bowden, right, by Joey Kamide