South Williamsport, Pa. — Hawaii has played eight games at the Little League World Series over the last two years without a loss. This year’s team, the first ever from the island of Maui, will need to pick up two more wins to capture back-to-back titles.
First up is Louisiana. The teams will meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Lamade Stadium, with the victor earning a place in the championship game against either Curacao or Japan on Sunday.
Looking to defend its title from last season, Hawaii sent Louisiana to the elimination bracket on Day 2 with a 5-2 victory. Neither team has lost since. In the three wins it needed to get here, Hawaii has found a variety of ways to get it done. The club from Maui rode Logan Kuloloia and Isaac Imamura to a 6-0 shutout of New Jersey then outslugged Virginia 12-9 to earn a spot in the U.S. title game. Hawaii has managed to score without hitting for power. Of its 26 hits over the course of three games, just one has left the yard.
Since squeaking out a 3-2 win over Oregon in its first elimination bracket game, Louisiana found a relatively smooth path to the U.S. championship that included 10-run-rule victories over Minnesota and Virginia, sandwiched around a 4-1 win against New Jersey. In five games at the LLWS, the Louisiana pitching staff has combined to limit opponents to just 1.6 runs per game. Louisiana has allowed one run in its last three games.
In 17 trips to the plate so far in the series, Louisiana’s Reece Roussel has made just four outs — good for a .765 batting average. With 13 knocks, he’s one hit away from tying the series record for hits, set by both Kiko Garcia and Bradley Smith. Roussel has hit for power, too. His five doubles are also one away from a series record, and he belted a grand slam against Virginia. Roussel’s six extra-base hits match the total Hawaii has posted as a team.
Hawaii coach Brad Lung calls his group a team without stars, but it looks like Hawaii has one on the mound. Jaren Pascual pitched six innings in the opener between these two teams without allowing an earned run. Louisiana crossed the plate twice thanks to a pair of Hawaii errors. He hasn’t pitched since, and should be well-rested if his number is called Saturday.
Louisiana has never made the Little League World Series title game, while Hawaii is looking for its fifth trip there since 2005.
Japan is just one win away from its eighth Little League World Series championship game appearance this decade. The Chofu City Little League team is continuing what has been a dominant run in South Williamsport for a country with a population of nearly 127 million.
The only thing standing in Japan’s way? A team from the tiny island of Curacao, which has a population of just 162,000. That’s smaller than the population of Chofu City, which has almost 230,000 residents.
But this is no David vs. Goliath matchup.
The teams will meet Saturday at Lamade Stadium, with the victor earning a place in the championship game against either Hawaii or Louisiana.
While Japan has outscored its opponents by 30 runs in its 3-0 start to the tournament, Curacao has a run differential of plus-23 in its five games in South Williamsport.
Outside of two solo home runs allowed against South Korea on Wednesday, the Japanese pitching staff has had an unblemished performance. Japan blew out Italy 20-0 in its opening game then followed that with convincing wins over Mexico (5-0) and South Korea (7-2) to reach this point.
Curacao has had to fight back through the losers’ bracket this week to make it to Saturday’s game. The Caribbean regional champions lost to South Korea 4-0 on Sunday, but got redemption on Thursday with a 5-3 win that included a first inning grand slam by Clay Winklaar.
Japan will have every member of its talented pitching staff available to throw in Saturday’s game, but it might be the only player not to start a game who has stood out the most. Yuto Misaki has made a relief appearance in all three of Japan’s games and hasn’t allowed a run in five innings, while striking out nine batters.
Curacao’s Curley Martha has been a force at the plate all tournament. He’s 8-for-13 with a pair of home runs and six RBIs. His solo home run helped provide an insurance run in the win over South Korea on Thursday and he’s driven in a run in all but one of Curacao’s games so far.
Jurdrick Profar, the youngest brother of Oakland Athletics infielder Jurickson Profar, is the third Profar brother to play in the Little League World Series and has been a key contributor to the Curacao team. When Jurdrick takes the field Saturday, all three of the Profar brothers will have made it as far as the international championship.
Jurickson helped lead Curacao to its only Little League title in 2004, while Juremi was a part of the team that lost to Japan in the international championship in 2007.
Little League World Series
International final: Japan vs. Curacao, 12:30 p.m. (ABC)
U.S. final: Wailuku (Hawaii) vs. River Ridge (La.), 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Consolation, 10 a.m. (ESPN)
Championship, 3 p.m. (ABC)