SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Joshua Houston survived a rocky start to pitch five innings and also brought in the tying run with a line single in the fifth to lead Chicago past Las Vegas 7-5 on Saturday in the U.S. final at the Little League World Series.
The Great Lakes Region champions from Jackie Robinson West advanced to meet South Korea in Sunday’s championship game.
While the team celebrated on the field and posed for pictures, “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago fittingly played over the public address system.
There were also chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Trailing 3-0 after the first and 5-4 heading into the home half of the fifth, Chicago scored three times to win it. Houston’s single tied it after two walks, with runs also scoring on a fielder’s choice and an error.
Ed Howard then came on to close it out for Jackie Robinson West, a member of the Urban Initiative which supports Little League programs in needy urban areas.
Las Vegas, the West Region champs, had topped Chicago 13-2 on Aug. 17 and had outscored the opposition 33-5 in its three victories in South Williamsburg. The game was played under gray skies with an occasional mist of rain.
The weather didn’t dampen the mood of the crowd. Hundreds of kids spent the game sliding down the steep hill in center field on large sheets of cardboard.
The Illinois team, called “the pride of Chicago” by mayor Rahm Emmanuel, eliminated the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia, featuring Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’ne Davis, by a 6-5 score on Thursday night in its most recent game.
Las Vegas threatened before many in a crowd of 27,428 at Lamade Staidum had even found their seats.
Zach Hare blooped a single, Austin Kryszczuk reached on a grounder through the hole and Brennan Holligan had an infield hit — giving them more hits in the first three batters than Chicago mustered against Las Vegas in the earlier meeting. Houston retired Brad Stone on a called third strike and Dillon Jones on a pop, but Drew Laspaluto lined a double off the wall in center that cleared the bases.
In the earlier meeting, Las Vegas had scored four times in the first and never looked back in Holligan’s overpowering two-hit, six-strikeout, four-inning victory.
But Chicago came right back on Trey Hondras’ line-drive homer to right after Pierce Jones’ leadoff walk to cut it to 3-2. Marquis Jackson then singled and raced all the way to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Darion Radcliff’s hard single.
In the second, Hondras’ single to left brought in Jaheim Benton, pinch-running for Cameron Bufford, who had walked and moved up on a Holligan wild pitch. That gave Chicago a 4-3 lead.
Las Vegas had runners in scoring position in both the third and fourth but failed to tie it.
In the top of the fifth, Las Vegas got a one-out double off the left-field wall by Krysczcuk. Holligan, batting third, then hit a long drive to right center. When he made contact, Houston angrily motioned as if to slam his glove to the ground, thinking the ball was out. But it was caught at the warning track.
But three pitches later, on an 0-2 count, Stone ripped a line-drive over the wall in left for a 5-4 lead. This time Houston was face down on the grass for an instant in disappointment.
Holligan struck out the leadoff batter in the bottom half, but walked the next two batters and was replaced by Kryszczuk. Houston, the first batter to face Kryszczuk, hit a foul pop to left that was dropped. On the next pitch, Houston tied it with a liner off the second baseman’s glove.
Hare then came on in relief with runners at the corners and one out and Brandon Green hit a bouncer to third resulting in a force at second, Radcliff scoring to put Chicago ahead for good. After a walk, Howard’s bouncer to second got under Kryszczuk’s glove and Green scored to make it 7-5.
In the top of the sixth, Howard came on for Houston and retired the leadoff hitter on a bouncer back to the mound.
After a bloop single by Alex Barker, Dallan Cave reached on an error. But Josiah Cromwick also bounced back to Howard, who started a 1-6-3 double play to end the game.
The Little League Urban Initiative was formed in 1999 to help local Little League programs in low-income urban neighborhoods. The Chicago team is the first member of the Urban Initiative to make it to the LLWS since Harlem in 2002.
Jackie Robinson West is making its second appearance in South Williamsport after going 2-1 in the 1983 LLWS.
Las Vegas, which will meet Japan in Sunday morning’s consolation game, is the first team from Nevada to make it to the LLWS. That leaves eight states and the District of Columbia unrepresented at the big tournament in South Williamsport.
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