August 8 - There would be no drama this time. Justin Lee, Chase Obstgarten and Colton Hicks made sure of it.
Two nights after Obstgarten’s two-run walk-off double beat Peachtree City (GA), the Loudoun South American trio combined for four home runs and nine RBI and Lee was one out short of a complete game in a 12-2 win over the Georgia champions yesterday afternoon in the Little League Southeast Regional championship game in Warner Robins, GA.
With the win, their 16th straight, Loudoun South American becomes the first team from Virginia to advance to the World Series since Central Springfield in 1994. They’ll play the winner of the New England Region - which will be determined on Saturday - next Thursday at 3 p.m. in Williamsport, PA.
Like yesterday’s game, all the World Series contests will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
“We did our best to keep it real loose, like it’s just another game,” manager Alan Bowden said. “We told them, ‘Let’s give Justin run support and he’s going to crush it on the mound’. I knew after the first inning, that [Lee] was going to do fantastic just like he did earlier in this tournament and he did in the state tournament.
“He is just totally locked in right now and playing the best baseball of his life.”
Lee remained perhaps the hottest Little League hitter in the country, going 2-for-3 with two homers and three RBI. He finished the tournament 8-for-10 with 10 RBI, had more homers (5) than singles (3), and during his 16-game hitting streak he has connected on 14 round-trippers.
On the mound, Lee was just as good, limiting the Georgia champions to four hits and two unearned runs while striking out seven and not issuing a walk in 5.2 innings. Once he reached the pitch count limit, he handed off to left-hander Liam Thyen, who struck out his only batter on three pitches to end a quarter-century of frustration for Virginia teams, which had lost in their previous five championship game appearances.
Obstgarten, the hero on Monday night, gave Loudoun South American a 5-0 lead with his second-inning grand slam after a two-out error had extended the inning. In the fifth, Lee and Hicks connected on back-to-back homers and Hicks added an RBI single in the sixth to provide the game’s final margin. He finished with three of his team’s 11 hits.
“It was unexpected,” Bowden said of the lopsided outcome. “We’re just feeling really fortunate. And I cannot say enough about that Peachtree City team, they have some outstanding players and feel for the game.”
Now the group of 11- and 12-year-olds from Loudoun County will return home instant celebrities after ending the state’s drought at the regional tournament and avenging Loudoun South American’s 3-0 loss to Peachtree City in last year’s championship game.
“I told our kids, ‘We don’t ever talk about Williamsport. The only thing we talk about is the next game’,” Bowden said of his team’s mindset during its run. “But after what [Sean] Lizama did last year with those boys and the way they went out against Peachtree City, there was definitely a strong feeling that we wanted to vanquish some demons from last year. We wanted to beat those guys bad.”
Notes: Matt Coleman had a two-run single and Noah Culpepper scored on a wild pitch to score the final run during the fifth-inning rally … Bowden’s father was on the first Virginia team to advance to the Little League World Series, starting in center field for Hamton Wythe as an 11-year-old in 1954 … Loudoun South outscored its four opponents, 37-11, and hit .380 as a team. Of its 41 hits, 14 went for extra bases … Hicks finished the tournament 6-for-15 with three extra-base hits and five RBI … In his two outings, Lee recorded 16 strikeouts to just one walk and allowed three runs (one earned) in 10.1 innings. Bowden’s staff posted a 1.50 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 24 innings in Georgia … Loudoun South’s infield committed just two errors at the tournament, with the undersized Coleman making several crafty plays and picks of low throws. “He’s incredible,” Bowden said of the slick-fielding first baseman. “I had two different sets of Warner Robins parents come up and say ‘I want to tell you I’ve been coming to watch for over 10 years and that first baseman is our favorite player we’ve watched’. Since the day I met that kid, knew he was special. He’s a coach’s dream, never too high, never too low. His nickname is ‘The Professional’.”
Photo by Krystal Culpepper