By Arnie Leshin
On Thursday’s day one of the 72nd annual International Little League World Series, only one game was played before the skies emptied and never let up, causing the rest of the schedule to be postponed.
But Friday, it was a switch in weather in Williamsport, Pa., with the sun shining down and providing the tournament with perhaps seven or eight games to be played on day two of the double-elimination World Series.
Not to forget the International field’s Volunteer Stadium game that had Caribbean Region champion Curaco shutting down the Australia Region champion from Cronulla, 11-0, before the rain and wind moved in.
The crowd that turned out then had to find other things to do and hope for a change in the weather, and it became good news.
In the Friday opener played at Lamade Field, the site of the United States games until the championship and consolation games, and Southeast Region champion Virginia from South Riding, had a combined no-hitter from three pitchers in blanking New England Region Rhode Island, from Barrington, 3-0.
The Asia-Pacific Region champion South Korea then turned back Latin-America Region champion Venezuela, 10-3. South Korea hails from South Chungcheong and Venezuela from Maracaibo.
Next came Minnesota and Kentucky, the Midwest and Great Lakes Region champions respectively, and Minnesota’s starting second baseman was Maddy Fleking, the first girl to play in the LL World Series in seven years.
Her team won 2-1, and she handled three ground balls and a popup, while at bat she struck out on a full count and grounded out to third base. The 5-foot-6 Fleking was easy to spot with her long blond hair pony tail and her enthusiasm in the field and in the dugout.
Minnesota struck first, scoring twice in the first inning. It stayed at 2-0 until Kentucky pushed across a run in the bottom of the fourth. In the sixth, it had two aboard with one out, but a strikeout and fly ball to center field ended its threat.
Japan Region champion from Choufu City was the heavy favorite over Europe-Africa Region champion Italy, but it was scoreless for two innings before Japan scored six times in the third, eight times in the fourth, and six more times in the fifth to up the margin to 20-0. The 10-run mercy rule ended the contest after five innings. The Italy team is from Bologna.
Southwest Region champion Louisiana from River Edge took on the defending USA champion from Hawaii. Some misguided play in the field hurt Louisiana and it fell behind 4-0 after four innings. In the last of the fourth, Louisiana cut the gap to 4-2 before Hawaii added an insurance run in the fifth.
In the sixth, Louisiana loaded the bases with two down, but a fly ball down the right field line was caught. Louisiana outhit Hawaii, 9-8, made one error while the team from Wailoku East Maui committed two in its 5-2 victory.
Mexico’s Mala-Torres from Madelcin de Bruno, winner of the Mexico Region, posted a 5-0 triumph over Canada Region champion Quebec from Quebec Region.
Then, in the last game of the day, Mid-Atlantic Region champion New Jersey from Elizabeth fell behind 2-0 to Northwest Region winner Oregon from Salem, but scored six times in the bottom of the fifth inning and carried off a 6-2 victory.
All the winners moved on in the winner’s bracket, while the losers dropped into the loser’s bracket and would be eliminated with one more setback.
Weather permitting, the Saturday slate is win and survive. Australia leads off against Venezuela, Kentucky plays Rhode Island, Canada takes on Italy, and Louisiana faces Oregon.
Nobody goes home, not yet. Lose and you are still taking the field in consolation games. Win and you are still on the road to the championships, first it’s the International and United States, than the two winners meet for the International championship.