By Will Desautelle
After an offensive onslaught in which Louisiana scored all nine of its runs in the fifth and sixth innings, it seemed all but certain that they would clinch the state’s first-ever trip to the Little League Baseball® World Series Championship.
But then Hawaii rattled off five runs in the bottom of the sixth, then loaded the bases with one out and brought the tying run to the plate.
Louisiana manager Scott Frazier thought to himself, “Oh my god, don’t screw this up because then I won’t be able to go home. I never felt comfortable at all ever in the game because (Hawaii) is so dangerous. They’re an exceptional team and that’s why they were undefeated up to this point.”
Frazier then handed the ball to Ryder Planchard, who had not made an appearance on the mound in this LLBWS prior to Saturday, to record the final two outs in about as high-pressure of a situation one could inherit.
“My coach came up and said ‘we just need strikes,’” said Planchard. “I just went in, did my job and I just threw strikes.”
Up came the clean-up hitter, Nakea Kahalehau, who was 2-for-3 to that point. On a 3-2 count, Planchard delivered the payoff pitch and Kahalehau cracked a line drive to shortstop. In a perfect spot was Stan Wiltz, who took one step to his left to make the catch, and then noticed that Bransyn Hong, the runner on second base, had left the bag. He subsequently tagged second base to double off Hong and lock up the United States Championship for his for the Southwest Region Champions from River Ridge, La.
Gloves were tossed into the air as catcher Egan Prather tackled his pitcher to the ground, beginning the ensuing dog pile of Louisiana players on the infield grass at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
“My natural instinct took over,” said Wiltz. “When I saw the line drive hit to me – it was just another play for me and I just did it. I wasn’t really thinking anything. I was just doing what I was capable of.”
Louisiana avenged a 5-2 loss against Hawaii in their first game of the tournament and history was made in multiple facets on Saturday afternoon.
Not only will a team from Louisiana represent the United States in the championship game on Sunday, but they also defeated Hawaii for the first time ever and handed Hawaii its first ever loss in the United States Championship. Entering Saturday, Hawaii was a perfect 5-0 all-time in United States Championship games and 3-0 all-time against Louisiana.
“I don’t think I’ve comprehended it yet,” said Frazier. “It’s a total team effort. Every one of these guys have contributed to every single win we’ve had.”
Even more miraculous, Louisiana lost its first game to Hawaii and then collected five straight wins to claim the United States Championship. That is the first time in the 73-year history of the Little League Baseball World Series that a team lost its first game and then made it to the championship game.
With Louisiana’s two best pitchers in Egan Prather and Marshall Louque both ineligible to throw Saturday, Frazier turned to William Andrade, who delivered 4 2/3 shutout innings. Andrade has now pitched nine innings in this tournament without allowing a run.
“I felt really confident and I felt more confident since I pitched against them in the first game and I gave up no runs,” said Andrade. “I felt really confident that we were going to win this game and I was going to pitch strikes.”
“That’s exactly what I expected from Will,” said Frazier. “I knew he would keep them off balance…It’s easy to call pitches when the kids are making the pitches and that’s been the entire tournament for us. Most of our guys have done a good job of executing the pitch we call and it makes my job easy.”
Meanwhile, Reece Roussel entrenched himself into the Little League Baseball World Series record book with his 15th hit of the tournament via a two-run single to center in the top of the 6th. That hit broke Kiko Garcia (2009) and Bradley Smith’s (2012) record for most hits in a single LLBWS.
“This game I was going for the record,” said Roussel. “In the first three games, I had no idea that I would come anywhere close to beating this record.”
After Marshall Louque threw the first ever no-hitter by a Louisiana team in Williamsport in the United States semifinal, Frazier said the bigger the moment, the more Louque shines. Today he responded with his biggest hitting game of the tournament, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a triple.
“I just blocked everything out in my head,” said Louque. “Whenever I go up to the plate, I just focus on me and the pitcher and see what he’s got.”
The last step for Louisiana is to win the state’s first ever Little League Baseball World Series title on Sunday against Curacao’s Pabao Little League. Curacao, representing the Caribbean Region, also emerged from the elimination bracket, beating Japan earlier on Saturday to punch its ticket to the championship game.
Since the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2001, there has never been a year when both teams playing in the title game made the championship game by coming out of the loser’s bracket.
Frazier and his staff have done a masterful job of keeping their players loose under constant pressure to win throughout the entire tournament. He is one step away from making history yet again.
“We’re going to celebrate and have a good time, so there is not going to be any conversations tonight about the next game,” said Frazier. “We’ll talk about the (championship) game probably right before the game starts.”