South Williamsport, Pa. — Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores fell victim to a Lufkin power display when it opened the 71st Little League Baseball World Series on Thursday.
Collin Ross hit his second home run in the middle of back-to-back-to-back shots in the third inning to lead the Southwest Region champions from Texas to a 5-1 victory before an announced crowd of 7,172 at Lamade Stadium.
“That’s a really good baseball team,” Grosse Pointe manager Jason Hill said. “You can watch all the games you want on TV, but until they see it in person; they’re pretty imposing.
“Every swing they took tonight, even the balls they fouled off and missed, they were right on.”
Will Pflaum’s home run to start the top of the sixth was not enough to rally Grosse Pointe.
Hunter Ditsworth, who started the home run streak, also showed off his power on the mound. He carried a no-hitter through 3 1/3 innings and struck out eight without walking a batter in a two-hitter.
“We kind of knew he was only going to throw us a handful of breaking balls and it didn’t matter,” Hill said. “Not until the top of the sixth were we able to square anything up solid.
“There’s a reason for that. He’s good; throws hard.”
Grosse Pointe will try to remain in title contention Saturday when it faces Holbrook, the Mid-Atlantic Region champion from Jackson, N.J., in a 3 p.m. game that will be televised by ABC.
The long route through the bracket is nothing new to the Michigan state and Great Lakes Region champions. Grosse Pointe lost, 10-2, to Hamilton, Ohio, in the Great Lakes opener and needed to win four straight elimination games to reach the World Series.
“Hopefully, we can stay around a little bit longer and make a little bit of a run here in the next week,” Hill said.
Grosse Pointe is trying to improve on its last visit to Williamsport. Jason Hill and his son, leadoff hitter Drew, were in the bleachers in 2013 when Jason’s older son, Tyler, was on a team that went 0-3 with heartbreaking losses of one, two and three runs.
Ditsworth limited Grosse Pointe to three baserunners in the first game of the return visit.
Drew Hill reached on an error to start the game and Joey Randazzo smashed a ball past third base for the only hit.
Lufkin proved that home runs can take many shapes and sizes when getting three of its four in the third inning.
Ditsworth hit a no-doubt shot nearly 300 feet, well up the bank just to the left of straightaway center field. The second Ross homer was a laser over the left-field fence that before there was time to consider whether it would get out. Pinch hitter Clayton Wrigley then hit a high fly ball that held some suspense before clearing the fence down the left-field line.
Grosse Pointe did produce some impressive defense in defeat.
After Jack Jones opened the game with two strikeouts on six pitches, Randazzo dove to the left from his shortstop position to snag a low liner that appeared to be headed through the middle.
“Joey’s a middle infielder for a reason,” Jason Hill said. “He’s a great athlete. He took a couple nice swings tonight, too.
“We can play. We just ran into a better team.”
It was an impressive start in what can be an overwhelming setting the first time a team plays at Lamade.
“I wasn’t prepared for it,” Jason Hill said. “You can’t really emulate what you’re going to experience out there at Lamade.
“Once-in-a-lifetime experience is an expression that means something. I’m hoping that our kids enjoyed that experience because I certainly did. It was amazing. What an atmosphere. What an event.”
Catcher Ryan Jones, Jack’s twin brother, gunned a base stealer out at second on a first-and-third situation to end the fifth inning.
Drew Hill gave up a home run to the first batter he faced in relief, but gave up just one more hit while holding Lufkin scoreless over the final 2 1/3. He struck out five.
“I thought Drew did a nice job keeping them off balance,” Jason Hill said. “He did a nice job staying ahead.”
Lufkin shut down Grosse Pointe’s comeback hopes with its own defensive gem.
Immediately after Pflaum’s home run, third baseman Chip Buchanan made a diving, backhand grab of Drew Hill’s liner that appeared headed into the left-field corner for a likely double.
Little League World Series
Venezuela 4, Mexico 1
Fairfield, Conn. 7, Jackson, N.J. 6
White Rock, British Columbia 12, Italy 2 (4 innings)
Lufkin, Texas 5, Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores 1
Game 5: Tokyo vs. Sydney, 2 p.m.
Game 6: Walla Walla, Wash. vs. Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., 4 p.m.
Game 7: Dominican Republic vs. Seoul, 6 p.m.
Game 8: Sioux Falls, S.D. vs. Greenville, N.C., 8 p.m.
Game 9: Mexico vs. Italy, 1 p.m., ESPN
Game 10: Jackson, N.J. vs. Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores, 3 p.m., ABC
Game 11: Sydney vs. Seoul, 6 p.m., ESPN
Game 12: Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. vs. Greenville, N.C., 8 p.m., ESPN
Game 13: Venezuela vs. White Rock, British Columbia, 10 a.m., ESPN2
Game 14: Fairfield (Conn.) vs. Lufkin (Texas), 11 a.m., ESPN
Game 15: Tokyo vs. Dominican Republic, 1 p.m., ABC
Game 16: Walla Walla, Wash. vs. Sioux Falls, S.D., 2 p.m., ESPN
Tom Robinson is a freelance writer.