South Williamsport, Pa. — Louisiana’s Reece Roussel had a two-run single that broke the Little League World Series tournament record for hits with 15. At the time, it seemed like a footnote.
His hit in the sixth inning Saturday that gave Louisiana a 7-0 lead over Hawaii turned out to be the most important of all his hits at the LLWS. Roussel and his teammates from River Ridge survived a late comeback try by Hawaii and won 9-5, earning a spot in the tournament title game.
Down 9-0 in the sixth, Hawaii mounted a five-run rally and had the bases loaded before falling short.
Reece, who celebrated his record by sharing a smile and a high-five with his first base coach, said the record-breaking hit became more special after Hawaii’s comeback attempt.
“I think it’s awesome,” Reece said.
After four scoreless innings, Louisiana broke through with five runs in the fifth and four in the sixth, led by Reece and Marshall Louque, who had three extra-base hits and four RBIs.
Behind 4? scoreless innings from starter William Andrade, Louisiana looked poised to coast to a win.
“That’s exactly what I expected from Will,” Louisiana coach Scott Frazier said. “It’s easy to call pitches when the kids are making the pitches.”
The team from Maui, trying to defend the LLWS title won last year by a club from Honolulu, had other plans.
Hawaii scored five times in the sixth against two different Louisiana relievers, even bringing the tying run to the plate with just one out.
“‘Oh God, don’t screw this up because I won’t be able to go home.’ That was pretty much what was going through my mind,” Frazier said.
Then a line drive off the bat of Nakea Kahalehau landed in the glove of Louisiana shortstop Stan Wiltz, who beat a Hawaii baserunner to second to complete a game-ending double play.
More than a week after Hawaii sent Louisiana to the elimination bracket in the first game each of the teams played in South Williamsport, Louisiana got its revenge with a fifth straight victory.
Ryder Planchard, who knocked in the first run of the game with a pinch-hit single, secured the final two outs on the mound, and a date with Curacao – 5-4 winners over Japan – in the championship game Sunday.
It’s the first time since the format was expanded to 16 teams that two clubs who played through the elimination bracket will face off in the title game.
Ryder happily paid the price on the mound for his clutch pitching, when he was flattened by teammate Egan Prather.
The celebratory dogpile was on.
“We had to start it somehow,” an unapologetic Egan said with a laugh.
Curacao 5, Japan 4: As soon as the ball came off his bat, Curley Martha pointed to the sky — he knew that one was gone.
Curley hit a two-run homer to center in the fifth inning and got the final 11 outs as a relief pitcher, helping Curacao beat Japan to advance to the Little League World Series title game.
Japan loaded the bases in the sixth but Curley got out of the jam after a wild pitch scored two runs and put the tying run at third base. Ryohei Ushikubo hit a line drive toward the left centerfield gap, but Keven Rosina made the catch.
"It was a little bit scary," Curacao manager Michelangelo Celestina said.
Curley and Shendrion Martinus combined to hold a Japan team that scored 32 runs in its first three games to four runs and five hits. Shendrion also contributed with his bat, providing a two-run double in the third.
The team from Willemstad fought back from a loss to South Korea last weekend, winning four straight games to reach the final on Sunday. Curacao will face either Hawaii or Louisiana at Lamade Stadium and aim for its second Little League title.
The Pabao Little League, with current Oakland Athletics infielder Jurickson Profar on its roster, won it in 2004.
Profar's youngest brother, Jurdrick, caught all six innings of Saturday's game and added a double and a pair of runs for Curacao.
Japan has won five Little League championships in this decade.
The Japanese team came from Chofu, with a population of 230,000 — larger than the entire island of Curacao, which has 162,000 residents.
"It feels like we are on the map again," Celestina said.
Competition to expand
The Little League World Series is getting bigger.
And a team from Cuba will be making the trip to the tournament no later than 2022 under an expanded format.
The expansion is set for 2021, bringing the number of teams at the Little League Baseball World Series from 16 to 20. Also, two teams will be added to the Softball World Series, raising that total to 12.
Cuba, Panama and Puerto Rico are to gain direct entry to the LLWS on a rotating basis, with each having a chance two out of every three years. When those countries do not have direct entries, they will play through the Caribbean region, as they do now.
Cuba was eligible for the Little League World Series for the first time this year, but got knocked out of the Caribbean regional tournament. Little League President Stephen Keener said in a news conference that Cuba registered about 600 Little League teams in
“That’s very comparable to what we have in Panama and Puerto Rico,” Keener said.
The expansion will allow for two more U.S. teams every year. Those bids will come from two new regions: the Mountain Region will include Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada; the Metro Region will be made up of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Keener said the LLWS will keep its modified double-elimination format but will add a day of play because of the larger field.
Also, Little League announced a $15 million improvement project at its campuses in South Williamsport and Portland, Oregon. The work will help accommodate the expansion while improving parking, restrooms and gift shops.
Volunteer and Lamade stadiums will not undergo major changes, Keener said.
“We’re excited,” Keener said. “By shrinking a number of regions, we’re going to be giving kids in number of regions a greater opportunity to get to Williamsport.”