Kamide’s Korner: Loudoun South's Refreshing Run to Williamsport

August 26 - Far too often, baseball gets lost in the madness of today’s social media-driven society. 

No, I’m not referring to the sport itself. That remains very prevalent - just look at the money that is paid by parents to train and showcase their kids and earned by owners, players and everyone in between at the Major League level. 

What I’m referring to is the game. 

In its purest form, baseball is the only game that mirrors life. Players learn to face and overcome failure, thus by nature gain more of an appreciation for success. They understand that luck often plays a role in the outcome, and that maybe, possibly, it can be swung in one direction or another by simply doing things the right way. Preparation and studying the game’s many intricacies can be just as valuable as talent alone. You can’t simply go dunk on someone if your jumper isn’t falling. 

What a group of 11- and 12-year-old’s from South Riding gave us this summer was a reminder of why we love baseball. Loudoun South Little League’s American All-Stars weren’t a group of individuals plucked from each corner of Northern Virginia, given uniforms and told to act as if they’ve been playing together for years. They actually have been playing together for years while growing up in a pocket of Loudoun County. 

We all watched them face and overcome adversity as they snapped Virginia’s quarter-century drought in Williamsport. In fact, millions of people watched them, as they played seven games on national television. In last week’s LLWS game against the Hawaiian state champions, 1.74 million people tuned into ESPN’s broadcast. In their previous game against the Minnesota champs, there were 15,447 in attendance. 

After an upset loss to Dulles, they won six straight elimination games to win the District 16 Tournament. They’d sweep to a second straight state title, then made their national television debut at the Southeast Regionals by winning in walk-off fashion. They’d cap regionals by avenging LSLL’s loss in last summer’s championship game, then became just the sixth team in the 73 years of the Little League World Series to toss back-to-back no-hitters. They’d run the winning streak to 18 games before having their LLWS end with a loss to eventual champion Louisiana. 

I walked with the team as it went to take batting practice before its game against Minnesota last week. Along the route, the players were routinely stopped and asked to sign autographs. Was I covering a team of pre-teens affectionately referred to locally as the Big Red Machine, or was I actually covering THE Big Red Machine of Bench, Rose, Morgan and Perez? 

They bonded and flourished in the spotlight under the guidance of manager Alan Bowden and his assistants, Brian Triplett and Keith Yates, and didn’t back down from a fight. Which shouldn’t be a surprise considering their home diamond is named Lions Field. At first, it was the Loudoun South community that rallied behind the 13 players and three coaches. Then it was Northern Virginia. Finally, the entire Washington, D.C. metro area was hooked. When the Nationals’ players are tweeting you good luck messages, you’re a big deal. 

Loudoun South’s run was the highlight of the region’s summer, bumping Capitol Hill from the lead on the evening news. It rallied the local baseball community and produced a lifetime of memories for its players, coaches and family members. 

And it reminded us all of everything that’s right about the game. 

Down, Not Out: Loudoun South Looks to Bounce Back in LLWS Elimination Game

August 22 - Loudoun South American faces elimination at the Little League World Series after having an 18-game winning streak snapped last night in Williamsport, PA. 

The Southeast Region champions dropped to the loser’s bracket after suffering a 12-9 loss to Central East Maui from Wailuku, HI. As a result, they’ll play Eastbank from River Ridge, LA - the Southwest Region champions - in an elimination game tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN. 

The West Region champions (15-2) advance to Saturday’s United States final and will await tonight’s winner.

After falling behind early, Loudoun South American (19-2) rallied for six runs in the bottom of the third inning to tie the game, 8-8. They’d hand the lead back, however, as the Hawaiians scored once on Chase Obstgarten in the fourth and three times on Brady Yates in the fifth. 

Justin Lee, who combined with Liam Thyen and Obstgarten on a no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Barrington, R.I. on Friday and tossed a four-inning no-hitter in an 11-0 win over Coon Rapids, MN on Sunday, gave up four runs and was unable to get out of the first inning. He’ll be available to pitch tonight, as will Obstgarten after both had abbreviated outings. Thyen, the team’s No. 2 pitcher during its run this summer, will not be available after throwing 51 pitches. 

Loudoun South American used five pitchers, with Kian Henson closing the game out with two scoreless frames. 

Colton Hicks and Noah Culpepper had two hits apiece and combined for five RBI to pace Loudoun South American. Lee was 1-for-2 with two walks and Chase Triplett had his third pinch-hit single of the tournament.

With the loss, the two-time Virginia champions will face a hot Eastbank (13-1) team that has run off three straight wins since a 5-2 opening-round loss to Central East Maui. The Louisiana team is led by Reese Roussel, who is 9-for-13 at the tournament, and a pitching staff that has allowed just 16 hits and posted a 0.86 ERA in its four games in Williamsport. 

Eastbank is likely to start right-hander Marshall Louque, who took the loss after being charged with four unearned runs against Central East Maui last week but has posted a 1.10 ERA with 25 strikeouts to just three walks in 16.1 innings since the beginning of the Southwest Regional. 

Notes: Only six teams remain alive in Williamsport, as Eastbank eliminated Mid-Atlantic Region champion Elmora (Elizabeth, N.J.) with a 4-1 win and Carribean champion Pabao (Willemstad, Curacao) eliminated Latin American champion Cacique Mara (Maracaibo, Venezuela) with a 9-2 victory. Pabao will play Asia-Pacific champion Chung Nam (South Chungcheong, South Korea) this afternoon for the right to face Japanese champion Chofu in the international final on Saturday … After playing two error-free games while posting consecutive shutouts to begin the tournament, Loudoun South American committed five errors last night. The team’s five pitchers threw a combined 163 pitches.

Photo of Matt Coleman by Joey Kamide

Little League World Series: News and Notes from Williamsport

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

Lee Extends No-Hit Streak, Thyen Drives in 5 as Loudoun South American Rolls

August 18 - Justin Lee kept Loudoun South American’s hitless streak alive and Liam Thyen drove in five runs as the Southeast Region champions cruised to an 11-0 win over Coon Rapids, MN in front of a crowd of 15,447 earlier today at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. 

Thyen hit a three-run double to get things started in the first inning, and Chase Obstgarten and Colton Hicks had RBI doubles during a five-run second to put the game away as Loudoun South American won its 18th straight game and advanced to the United States bracket semifinals on Wednesday night. 

Meanwhile, Lee looked sharp despite some back tightness and overpowered the Midwest Region champion’s lineup. He flashed a fastball that had some added velocity from his outing on Friday to go along with a dominant curveball. The right-hander struck out six, walked two and will be available once again on Wednesday as he entered the final batter under the 50-pitch threshold to be able to come back on two days of rest. 

“He was mixing up his speeds and he was throwing harder today than he was the other day,” said Loudoun South American manager Alan Bowden, who was assured by Lee before the game that the tightness wouldn’t affect him. “We said, ‘Are you sure? Because we’ve got other kids who can throw and we want you to be healthy out there’. He said, ‘I’ll be fine, I’m just a little tight and I’m going to work through it’. We were watching him in the first inning to make sure.”

Lee’s performance comes 48 hours after he went 2.2 innings and combined with Thyen and Obstgarten on a no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Barrington, R.I., the Northeast Region champions. He’s posted a 1.15 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 31.1 innings during the South Riding team’s run to this point.

“This week has been very fortunate for me,” Lee said. “Being here’s all great and throwing two no-hitters, being combined in one, it feels amazing.”

Added Bowden: “He had really good command of his curveball today, and depending on where we were in the lineup, we used it quite a bit and it worked really well. He was also spotting his pitches very well, he was hitting that outside corner with the curveball and the fastball.”

Obstgarten finished 2-for-2 with the RBI double and Hicks was 2-for-3 with three RBI. Loudoun South American’s first five batters - Obstgarten, Brady Yates, Lee, Hicks and Thyen - went a combined 7-for-9 with three walks and 10 RBI. 

Despite the back-to-back no-hit shutouts and long winning streak, Thyen said the team wasn’t looking past Wednesday’s game as it attempts to become the third team from Virginia to advance to the U.S. final.

“We take every game one step at a time and we don’t ever look ahead,” he said. “In this tournament, every single team is good and we don’t know if the team could be better than us. We always focus on that first game, the first inning and see what happens.”

Notable: Chase Triplett had a pinch-hit RBI single in the second … Loudoun South American pitchers haven’t allowed a run in 14 innings, dating to when Peachtree City, GA scored its lone two runs in a 12-2 win in the regional final … Lee was 1-for-2 with a walk. Since the beginning of the regional tournament, he has reached in 18 of 21 plate appearances, going 11-for-14 with seven walks over those six games … Loudoun South American has posted shutouts in nine of its 19 wins.

Quotable: “I’m really, really proud of the kids, the way they’ve executed … I have told them, ‘Look around, enjoy the moment and this is the biggest game of our life. But it’s still on the same field as you play on back at home at Lions Field. So look around, enjoy it, but when the first pitch is thrown, let’s get down to business’. And they’ve done a fantastic job of staying focused.” - Loudoun South American manager Alan Bowden

Next: Loudoun South American will play the winner of Elizabeth, N.J. and Wailuku, HI on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The winner of that game advances to the U.S. championship game on Saturday, with the World Series championship game on Sunday. 

Photos of Justin Lee, left, and Liam Thyen, right, by Joey Kamide

Combined No-Hitter, Yates’ Blast Powers Loudoun South in World Series Opener

August 17 - There apparently is no stage too big for South Riding’s young celebrities. 

Brady Yates hit a two-run fifth-inning homer and that proved to be all the support Loudoun South American’s pitching staff would need as Justin Lee, Liam Thyen and Chase Obstgarten combined on a no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Barrington, R.I., yesterday at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. 

The no-hitter was the 52nd in World Series history, and the victory was the first in 9,124 days by a team from Virginia at the world’s most-famous youth baseball tournament. 

The Southeast Region champions will put their 17-game winning streak on the line tomorrow at 11 a.m. against Coon Rapids, MN, the champions from the Midwest Region who earned a 2-1 win over Bowling Green, KY yesterday. Each game at the World Series is broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.

“It was kind of a dogfight there until the later innings,” Loudoun South American manager Alan Bowden said. “Everytime we hit the ball hard, it seemed to be right at them or they made a great play, so we had to keep battling.”

Things didn’t start like Bowden would have liked, as Loudoun South American stranded runners in each of the first four innings against Barrington starter Alex Anderson. It would be pinch hitter Kian Henson who finally got things started when he reached with a one-out single in the fifth. Two batters later, Yates drove Anderson’s first offering over the right-field fence to bring most of the announced crowd of 7,863 to its feet. 

“When I hit that, I knew it was gone,” said Yates, who has hit eight homers during the team’s run. “It was a good feeling hitting the home run and taking the lead.”

Added Bowden: “When Kian Henson got that hit and we got back around to Brady, and Brady had that great at-bat, I think we loosened up a little bit.”

Lee and Colton Hicks followed with singles, and Thyen’s RBI single chased Anderson and provided the final margin. 

Bowden and his staff continue to work their magic managing the team’s pitchers, even if it came with some risk yesterday. By relieving Lee and Thyen once they reached 35 pitches, both are eligible to throw tomorrow. Had they lost, neither would have been able to pitch in what would have been an elimination game today. 

“Obviously, it was a tough decision whether or not to pull Justin,” Bowden said. “I wanted to have that option of Justin this weekend, and of course then we pulled Liam. But that goes to the confidence the coaching staff has in the guys behind them on the mound. 

“Liam and Justin definitely pitched really well today. They moved the ball around location-wise, they moved the ball up-and-down to change eye-levels and they kept them off-balance I think with changing speeds.”

Lee and Thyen each went 2.2 innings, and Obstgarten got the final two outs to earn the save. The three hurlers allowed just one base runner to reach second base. Thyen struck out the first four and six of the eight batters he faced, and the left-hander now has 37 strikeouts to just seven walks in 29.1 innings. 

Notes: Yates and Lee each had two of Loudoun South American’s nine hits … The coaching staff has given the team the day off to watch other games and spend time with their families … The last win in Williamsport by a team from Virginia had been on Aug. 23, 1994, when Central Springfield beat Minnesota’s Brooklyn Center, 4-1. Central Springfield went 2-2 at the World Series that year, falling to Northridge, CA in the semifinals … A charter bus from South Riding to Williamsport will bring more fans to add to the many who have already made the 3.5-hour trip to support the team at tomorrow’s game. 

Photo by Krystal Culpepper

Michigan's Bakich, Whose 2-Strike Message Helped Inspire LLWS Run, Wishes Loudoun South Luck

August 10 - The Loudoun South American players and coaches received a surprise message on the eve of their departure to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. 

Michigan coach Erik Bakich, whose ‘team at-bat’ approach with two strikes has helped inspire the South Riding’s postseason run, heard his message had reached the team and placed a video call to them after last night’s practice. 

“Congratulations, you’re going to the World Series!” said Bakich, who in June led the Wolverines to within a win of their first national championship since 1962. “I’m really excited for you guys and I can’t thank you enough for your support during our run to the College World Series and just know that Michigan baseball is behind you guys at the Little League World Series.

“We’re excited for you and I couldn’t be more pumped to be in your corner and cheering you on.”

Bakich’s message to the 11- and 12-year-olds, who comprise Virginia’s first team to advance to the LLWS since 1994, was to capture the moment and continue to have fun.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told our team, the best thing you can do is go out there while you’re in Williamsport and enjoy every minute of it,” Bakich said. “I would guess that you got to this point by having a ton of fun and with smiles on your faces, being aggressive, taking chances out on that field, and just being tough. 

“There’s no way you made it this far without being aggressive and tough, so go out there and do those two things. But make sure you play this game with a big gigantic smile on your face.”

Wolverines’ 2-Strike Approach During CWS Run Helps Key Loudoun South's Success

August 10 - In late June, during the College World Series, Loudoun South American assistant coach Keith Yates read an article that he thought manager Alan Bowden might enjoy sharing with the team.

The article, written by Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball.com, highlighted the two-strike approach that had helped Michigan push Vanderbilt to a decisive third game in their CWS championship series. The Wolverines led the eight teams in Omaha in batting average, walks and on-base percentage behind coach Erik Bakich’s philosophy that his players take a selfless approach once a count reached two strikes.

“We shrink the zone with less than two strikes. We look for pitches to smash,” Bakich told D1Baseball.com. “And understanding that having the discipline to try to shrink the zone and just go after those pitches you can hit the hardest with less than two strikes is going to put you in good hitters’ counts. 

“And when you do have two strikes, we talk about it becoming a team at-bat. It’s no longer your at-bat, it’s a team at-bat, and your job is to get in there and be as gritty as you possibly can and fight to win the next pitch and see another pitch.”

Bowden loved it, and he asked his parents to print the story for the players and to have them review for the next practice. 

“We asked them to have the kids circle and highlight things that they felt were important and told them we were going to focus on this at our next practice,” Bowden said. “We asked them what their favorite thing was about the article.”

His players, many with a baseball acumen well-beyond their age, quickly bought in. 

“What we really took away from it was that we’re an aggressive-hitting team, but once you get two strikes, it is no longer your at-bat, it’s a team at-bat,” Bowden said. “Put pressure on the defense, put the ball in play and let’s move kids over and do something to help the team.

“We have stuck to that mantra since the District 16 Tournament. As coaches, we continue to learn and I studied and learned that from the Michigan coach. It’s continued to help our team.”

Loudoun South American has fielded an offensive monster this summer, featuring a deep lineup that has keyed its 16-game winning streak. Earlier this week, they won the Southeast Region championship to become Virginia’s first team to advance to the Little League World Series since Central Springfield in 1994. 

Much like during Michigan’s postseason run, the South Riding team has flourished at extending at-bats, getting runners on base and moving them over. The last five batters in the order have drawn 56 of the team’s 86 walks, helping flip the lineup over to Loudoun South American’s fearsome foursome of Chase Obstgarten, Brady Yates, Justin Lee and Colton Hicks. Those four have combined to drive in 105 runs, including 32 by leadoff man Obstgarten. 

“It’s been fun to watch the way they approach their at-bats, and we have all the way through the regional tournament,” said Bowden, whose club is hitting .419 with a .520 on-base percentage in its 18 games. “If they get to two strikes, you’ll hear [first base coach Brian Triplett] or myself holler at the kids, ‘It’s a team at-bat now’.”

That message mirrors the one Bakich delivered to his team while the Wolverines made their third NCAA Tournament since he came over from Maryland in 2013. It was the Big Ten Conference program’s first CWS appearance since 1984.

“Coach [Bakich] said there’s only two counts: there’s non-two-strike counts and then there’s two-strike counts,” Michigan’s Joe Donovan told D1Baseball.com. “If you’re in a non-two-strike count then you just look for a pitch that you can smash And if you are [in a two-strike count], you just try to fight off as many as possible.”

‘Smash’ is how one might describe the top of Loudoun South American’s lineup: Obstgarten (.508, 10 HR, 32 RBI), Yates (.515, 7 HR, 25 RBI), Lee (.607, 15 HR, 36 RBI) and Hicks (.450, 5 HR, 22 RBI) have piled up gaudy numbers. But Bowden has given as much credit to his team’s other hitters, who have constantly set the table and come up with several big hits of their own. 

And he maintains his team’s success has come at least in part from adopting Bakich’s message.

“Our team has been totally focused on what he said and my kids picked up on that and ran with that,” Bowden said. “It’s crazy where you find different things to talk about and different things you can use to motivate.”

Photo of Michigan players, at left, via Associated Press and of Loudoun South American players, right, by Krystal Culpepper

Loudoun South American Bangs 4 Homers, Cruises to Little League World Series Berth

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

Obstgarten’s Walk-Off Sends Loudoun South American to Southeast Region Final

August 6 - Chase Obstgarten had been hoping for another chance to come through in crunch time. 

Loudoun South American’s leadoff man, who felt he let his team down during a big moment in the District 16 Tournament, drove a 3-1 fastball to the right-field fence for a two-run walk-off double to give them a 6-5 win over Peachtree City (GA) in the Little League Southeast Regional semifinals last night in Warner Robins, GA. 

“I was thinking about the last time I was in a pressure situation and I didn’t come through,” Obstgarten said of his deciding at-bat. “So far in the tournament, I haven’t gotten too many 2-0 or 3-1 counts, and my dad told me if I did to be sure I swung at a good fastball to hit.”

He did, driving in Noah Culpepper and Matt Coleman to give the Virginia champions their 15th straight victory and a berth in tomorrow’s championship game. They’ll play the winner of Peachtree City and Northwood (S.C.), who meet in the loser’s bracket semifinal this afternoon. 

Obstgarten’s game-winner capped a rally that started when Chase Triplett reached on an error and Michael Bowden singled for his second hit of the game. Triplett and Bowden were thrown out at third base on consecutive sacrifice bunt attempts, leaving the game in the hands of Obstgarten. 


“Chase hits that rocket to right, and the place went bananas,” Loudoun South American manager Alan Bodwn said. “That right fielder didn’t have a chance. He hit it too hard.”

The sixth-inning comeback was necessary after three inherited runners scored on Obstgarten in the top of the sixth after he had come on in relief of starter Brady Yates with one out and the bases loaded. The three runs turned a 4-2 lead into a 5-4 deficit, but Bowden said his club wasn’t shaken by the moment. 

“We had played great and had them right where wanted them, and let them off the hook,” Bowden said. “But the kids didn’t tip their head, they just went back at it.”

As a result, Loudoun South American finds itself one win from clinching a berth to the World Series later this month in Williamsport, PA. Tomorrow’s championship game will be broadcast nationally at 3 p.m. on ESPN. 

Notes: Yates earned a no decision, scattering two hits while striking out four and walking four in 5.1 innings … Loudoun South American will have its top two pitchers rested and available tomorrow, with Justin Lee likely to start and left-hander Liam Thyen available in relief … Bowden’s team has played both potential opponents in the tournament and will get another look at them when they attend today’s game. “Both are very good,” he said. “It’s a pressure cooker and it’s very nerve-wracking because anything can happen.” … The tournament’s format is modified double-elimination, so there will be no playback game should Loudoun South American lose tomorrow night … Lee homered for the second straight game, connecting for a solo shot in the first inning. He’s 6-for-7 with three homers and seven RBI in the tournament … Bowden, Obstgarten and Yates each had triples. 

Photo of Chase Obstgarten by Krystal Culpepper

Loudoun South American Gets Rematch from '18 Southeast Regional Final

August 4 - A year after Georgia’s Peachtree City beat them in the championship game, Loudoun South American will get an opportunity for some revenge in a nationally-televised semifinal tomorrow night at the Little League Southeast Regionals in Warner Robins, GA. 

Loudoun South American won its 14th straight game yesterday afternoon, overcoming an early deficit to beat Northwood (S.C.), 12-3, and advance to tomorrow’s semifinal contest at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. 

Yesterday’s win didn’t begin as manager Alan Bowden would have hoped, as an error and two hits enabled Northwood to take a 3-0 first-inning lead on starter Liam Thyen. Loudoun South American quickly responded, with Justin Lee’s two-run homer highlighting a three-run bottom of the first and Bowden’s club scoring five in the third and four in the fourth to put the game away.

“I told the kids [in the first inning], I said, ‘Hey, we haven’t hit yet and three runs isn’t going to beat us. Let’s focus and bear down’,” Bowden said. “Justin’s two-run bomb, that really got us back on track.”

Lee went 3-for-3 with four RBI and added a solo homer in the third. He’s 5-for-5 with three walks and six RBI in the two tournament games and is hitting .674 (.31-for-46) with 11 home runs and 33 RBI over his 14-game hitting streak. “He’s just so dialed in, he’s really feeling it right now,” Bowden said. “He’s getting better and better with his discipline at the plate and it’s really paying off.”

Loudoun South has had at least nine players with base hits in both games, and yesterday got run-scoring hits from Brett Triplett and Noah Culpepper off the bench. Colton Hicks and Kian Henson each added two hits and combined to drive in three runs.

Thyen, meanwhile, recovered from the slow start and pitched into the fourth to earn the win before relievers Chase Obstgarten and Brady Yates closed the game out. The three hurlers combined to limit the South Carolina state champions to four hits while striking out 10, and Yates fanned the side in the sixth. 

“Thyen did a really good job on the mound, and our defense just keeps us in every game,” Bowden said. “I was really proud with how the boys responded.”

Peachtree City shut out Loudoun South American, 3-0, in the final last August to advance to the World Series in Williamsport, PA. It’ll be a different cast of characters this time - Loudoun South American’s roster has turned completely over from the team then-manager Sean Lizama skippered last summer - but the opportunity to avenge the loss won’t be lost on Bowden and his team. 

“We got beat two times by them last year,” the manager said. “They’re a fantastic team … they put the ball in play, hit it hard. We’re going to have to play incredibly good defense.”

Tomorrow’s winner will advance to the championship game on Wednesday, with the loser dropping to the loser’s bracket semifinal on Tuesday. 

Notes: Loudoun South American is hitting .418 with 19 hits through its first two games … Two teams, Wilson City (N.C.) and Huntsville (AL) American, have been eliminated. The four 1-1 teams playing in loser’s bracket games today are Viera/Suntree (FL), Northwood (S.C.), Goodlettsville (TN) and Hurricane (W.V.) … Bowden said Obstgarten, Yates or the 11-year-old Hicks - the youngest player on the team - could start tomorrow night. Yates’ older brother, Chad, struck out seven while allowing three runs in 4.2 innings in last year’s regional final against Peachtree City … Bowden said his club would practice late this morning, then would have a team lunch before watching one of the games at the stadium. Tomorrow, they’ll be taking photos and doing interviews at 2:30 p.m. with the ESPN crew as the network prepares for its broadcast. 

Photo by Krystal Culpepper