South Williamsport, Pa. — Every time Coeur d’Alene tried to pull away further in Friday's Little League Baseball World Series first-round game, Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores third baseman Jarren Purify pulled it back in.
On a night when Purify’s highly touted offensive abilities were held largely in check, he used his fielding skills to keep Woods-Shores within range and set the stage for a comeback that kept the Great Lakes Region champions in the U.S. winners’ bracket.
As Coeur d’Alene manager Sean Cherry predicted in the postgame press conference, the best of Purify’s efforts in the dramatic 5-4 victory wound up in the ESPN "SportsCenter" Top 10 plays of the night at No. 2.
The television clip showed off the athleticism that makes Purify one of the most exciting players to watch in Williamsport.
The timing, however, is what made the play such a big part of Woods-Shores advancing to face West champion Honolulu, Hawaii, Sunday at 2 p.m. on ABC.
Coeur d’Alene led, 4-0, and had runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. Pinch hitter Chase Saunders hit a hard shot down the line. Purify dove to his right, backhanded the ball, bounced up quickly and fired across the diamond to easily erase Saunders with the third out.
If the ball got past Purify, the deficit would have been at 6-0. If he did not get up and make the throw in time, it would have been 5-0 with two runners still on base.
“That play was a huge turning point,” Woods-Shores manager Kurt Barr said. “Not only did it save two runs that probably would have been the difference in the game, but it got them fired up and got them comfortable and relaxed and feeling like they could pull it off.”
The play was not the only defensive gem by Purify nor his only fifth-inning contribution.
Purify and second baseman Cameron Schafer made an around-the-horn double play look easy with quick footwork and strong throws to end the fourth inning.
“He probably had his worst game at the plate in a while,” Barr said of Purify, who was 9-for-10 with eight extra-base hits in the Great Lakes Regional. “He’s special. He’s got speed. He’s a smart player — a high baseball IQ.
“He will have value and find a way to help this team on any given night.”
Woods-Shores pulled out the win with four runs in the bottom of the sixth, but first Purify broke the shutout in the fifth.
It left Cherry shaking his head about how his team could strike out his opponent’s most feared weapon three out of four times but still be hurt by him.
Christopher Reynolds struck out 11 and did not allow an earned run in 4.2 innings, but lost his shutout as he arrived at 85 pitches, the daily maximum allowed in Little League.
“My pitch caller, Steve Saunders, spent hours and hours going over tape,” Cherry said. “Steve and Chris put together a perfect plan to shut him down.
"That kid is legit.”
Reynolds got two of the strikeouts by following Saunders’ plan of fastballs inside, combined with pitches well outside in case Purify would chase them.
In the third plate appearance, Purify ripped the first pitch to left for a double.
“The third time around, when he came in and rocketed that shot, you know eventually he’s going to beat you,” Cherry said. “He’s just a wonderful, wonderful player.”
Woods-Shores still needed two breaks to start the scoring.
Oliver Service’s foul pop up was dropped to start his at-bat with two out and two runners on. Service struck out on a pitch in the dirt but made it to first when the ball got away from the catcher and drew an errant throw that gave Purify time to race home from second.
“That’s one of those classic Little League things where you block a good ball,” Cherry said. “We wanted it in the dirt and my son (catcher) Avrey was a little too casual on it. He should have been a little more speedy on his feet. Maybe, he slipped a little bit.
“It’s one of those momentum shifts and clearly that was the beginning of it, besides Purify’s unbelievable play at third base.
“Boy, if I don’t see that on ESPN, I’ll never see a play.”
Tom Robinson is a freelance writer.
LLWS second round
Who: Great Lakes Regional champion Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores vs. West Regional champion Honolulu, Hawaii
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Lamade Stadium, Williamsport, Pa.
At stake: A spot in the final game of the U.S. winners' bracket at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Loser will face Midwest Regional champion Des Moines, Iowa, in an elimination game at 3 p.m. Monday.