Jackie Robinson West wins U.S. championship at Little League World Series
By Paul Skrbina
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Happy berth day, Jackie Robinson West.
On Saturday afternoon, under a gray Pennsylvania sky, 13 boys from the South Side of Chicago earned a spot in the Little League World Series championship game. Jackie Robinson West sweated out a 7-5 victory in the United States final against Nevada, a team that defeated Jackie Robinson by 11 runs six days earlier.
Jackie Robinson West is the first team from Chicago since North Roseland in 1967 to qualify for the championship and the fourth finalist from Illinois, which doesn’t own a title.
As one emailer wrote, simply: Now it’s soul vs. Seoul.
Jackie Robinson West will face Asia-Pacific champion Seoul, South Korea, a 12-3 winner over Japan in the international final, at 2 p.m. Sunday on ABC-7.
“I don’t like losing,” Jackie Robinson’s Trey Hondras said. “It’s like a girl dumping you and going to your best friend. It really hurt.
“Getting revenge is like getting a better girl and showing her off to your best friend.”
Four batters into Saturday’s game, Jackie Robinson was showing off its bats.
That was all it took for the Great Lakes Region champions to surpass the offensive output — two runs and two hits — they had during a 13-2 loss to Las Vegas on Aug. 17.
That put Jackie Robinson (5-1) in the losers’ bracket — and on a mission.
“They were cocky, so we wanted to play them again,” said Darion Radcliff, who had an RBI and walked twice.
Added Ed Howard, who earned the save for Josh Houston: “Before the game in our dorm we had a talk about how we wanted to get revenge against them.”
Jackie Robinson wasted little time exacting it.
Hondras’ two-run home run to right field highlighted a three-run first. Hondras was at it again in the second, when his single to left scored Cameron Bufford to give Jackie Robinson a 4-3 lead.
“I wasn’t really trying to hit the home run, I just wanted to make contact to get Pierce (Jones) home,” Hondras said. “I just got lucky. Well, not lucky. But I hit the ball over the fence.”
Hondras didn’t just show off with his bat. He wisely started a 3-4-1 double play in the second inning that went Hondras to Marquis Jackson to Houston.
Jackie Robinson West answered with three runs in the fifth, when Houston singled home Jackson. Radcliff (walk) and Brandon Green (fielder’s choice) also scored in the inning.
Things looked eerily familiar to Jackie Robinson at the start, though. Last time it was three consecutive walks to the top of Las Vegas’ order in the first that led to a Brad Stone grand slam and an early hole for the Chicagoans. This time the first three hitters singled before Drew Laspaluto cleared the bases with a two-out double.
Stone was at it again Saturday for Vegas, hitting a two-run home run on an 0-2 count with two outs in the fifth to give his team a 5-4 lead.
Houston, who is 4-0 at the Little League World Series, pounded the ground in frustration.
“After that home run I got scared, I got very scared,” Houston said. “I knew at some point something good would happen.”
So it did.
“It’s still unreal,” Jackie Robinson manager Darold Butler said. “I’m still going through the game in my mind, how exciting it was, how intense it was.”
Much more intense than Butler’s Saturday night plans.
“My celebration is going to be sleep,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t even know what time (Sunday’s) game is. I’m going to do my research, but at the same time I love our style of baseball.”
Jackie Robinson came back from two five-run deficits to win the Great Lakes Regional against Indiana just to get to South Williamsport. After losing to Las Vegas, West won four win-or-go-home games to advance.
“It was one of those games that could have gone either way,” Butler said.
Once again, it went Jackie Robinson West’s way.
“They hate to lose. That’s it. They’re horrible losers,” Butler said. “They don’t show it, but they hate it.”