Taylor North defeats Hawaii, sets up rematch against Ohio for Little League championship

By Tom Robinson
Special to The Detroit News

Cameron Thorning’s dream start to Saturday’s bracket final helped assure that Taylor North would end its journey to Williamsport by playing for the Little League Baseball World Series title Sunday afternoon.

Thorning hit what proved to be the winning, two-run homer in the top of the first inning, then took the mound in the bottom of the inning to strike out three straight batters after a lead-off walk.

Taylor pitcher Jakob Furkas, right, celebrates with teammates, from left to right, Ethan Van Belle, top left, Lucas Farner (9) and Jackson Surma (22) after getting the final out of a win over Honolulu.

Jakob Furkas helped Thorning finish the job on the mound as Taylor North avenged its only loss of the summer with a 2-1 victory over Honolulu, Hawaii, in the Hank Aaron bracket championship game at Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“It was huge,” Thorning said of the first inning. “I treat every game like a normal game.

“I go out there to hit and pitch. Don’t overcomplicate things. Keep it nice and easy.”

There was still work to be done after he made the first inning look easy.

Hawaii moved within one on an unearned run in the third inning and Furkas relieved Thorning in the fourth. Furkas finished up the combined two-hitter to set up a Great Lakes Region championship rematch for the title of this year’s World Series, which is being played without International entries because of the pandemic.

Taylor North will play region runner-up Hamilton, Ohio, at 3 p.m.

“It hit me there for a second and I almost got a little light-headed thinking about it,” said Rick Thorning, Taylor North’s manager and Cameron’s father. “This game was one or two hits away from being the other way around and going home saying, ‘You guys did good; you guys did good,’ ”

Instead, they will play for Michigan’s first Little League World Series championship since 1959 with plenty of available pitching options against a team they handled before.

“We’re about to play a game for a chance to win the Little League World Series,” manager Thorning said. “To be honest with you, I don’t know how my mind or my body is going to respond to this next game.

“It’s just been such an exhausting and stressful time and yet best time of my life and best time of these kids’ lives.”

Facing Hawaii had a way of raising the stress level.

Cameron Thorning helped put Taylor North at ease early in the game.

Lucas Farner led off the game with a four-pitch walk.

Thorning, who has three home runs in the World Series and had another taken away in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Hawaii, made it 2-0 with a one-out shot to right field.

“I knew we had to jump on them early,” said Farner, who also tripled in the third inning for the best Taylor North threat after the first. “When Cameron was up, I knew he was going to hit the ball hard. It was great, Cameron going yard.”

Hawaii’s lead-off hitter Zack Bagoyo also worked a walk, but he never left first base as Thorning threw seven straight strikes to end the first inning.

Thorning did not allow a hit for the first 2 2/3 innings. After a single and strikeout to begin the fourth, he left the mound in favor of Farkus.

“That was just an awesome, shutdown performance by him,” Rick Thorning said.

Furkas got two of his four strikeouts in the last inning, including one to end the game.

“When that strike three was called, that was the best moment of my life,” Farner said.

Taylor North is in position to top it Sunday.

“We have our ace to go into the championship game and I don’t know how many times people are able to set that up,” Rick Thorning said.

Ethan Van Belle, who started the World Series opener, is ready to start the championship game and Gavin Ulin is among those available in relief. They have combined to allow just one earned run in 10 1/3 innings in the tournament with 14 strikeouts and five walks.

The manager, however, said he is not about to take anything for granted against the team his players have known longer than any opponent in the tournament. Thorning acknowledged cheering for Ohio to win Saturday’s first game. In addition to being a fellow Great Lakes entry, the Ohio team is in the adjacent dorm, so even with socializing somewhat limited for health precautions, the teams have gotten to know each other.

“They’re going to fight,” Thorning said. “ … Baseball’s a funny game. It’s a game where any given day, any team can beat another team. That’s just what it is.

“Just because we beat them, 9-1, that’s the last thing on my mind when it comes to playing them.”

Tom Robinson is a freelance writer.