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Attaboys! Taylor North brings home Michigan's second LLWS championship

Tom Robinson
Special to The Detroit News

South Williamsport, Pa. — With a Little League Baseball World Series championship on the line, Hamilton, Ohio, got 14 runners on base to 10 for Taylor North.

What Taylor North did with those runners, its own and Hamilton’s is the reason the team is returning home as the first Michigan champion in 62 years.

The Taylor North Little League team celebrates after beating Ohio in the championship game Sunday in South Williamsport, Pa.

Jackson Surma drove in four runs and Taylor North limited Hamilton to one run in five plate appearances over three bases-loaded situations Sunday afternoon during a 5-2 victory in the championship game at Lamade Stadium.

“We’re getting ready to celebrate with a lot of very important people that have been waiting to celebrate with us,” Taylor North manager Rick Thorning said of players and coaches reuniting with the rest of their families after largely being kept apart for COVID-19 protocols during the Great Lakes Regional and World Series.

The clutch performances that made the celebration possible started right from the first inning.

Surma opened the scoring on the first of his pair of two-run singles, then came home from third on a Jakob Furkas groundout.

By then Ethan Van Belle already had shut down the first Hamilton threat on the way to the 3-0 lead.

Van Belle, who struck out eight while reaching the pitch limit in four strenuous innings, got an infield fly popup and strikeout with the bases loaded.

“That was very important,” Thorning said. “Ethan was throwing a lot of pitches that inning. … To get out of that with no damage was great.

“It kind of set the tone a little bit.”

Hamilton had a batter come to the plate with the bases loaded six times, resulting in just one run. Those batters went 0-for-5 with a walk, sitting down on strikeouts by Van Belle three times and on flyouts twice. Another threat went away when a runner wandered off third base, thinking an inning-ended third strike had occurred and instead becoming the final out.

Taylor North never had a bases-loaded opportunity, but went 5-for-14 with runners on base. With runners in scoring position, it was 2-for-8 with Surma’s hits driving in four runs and Furkas producing another on an out.

Surma was thinking he could score a run with an out in the first inning when he came up after Ulin had walked and Cameron Thorning singled with one out. Thorning stole second to put two runners in scoring position.

“On the first one, I knew I had runners on second and third and there weren’t two out, so I just wanted to get something in play,” he said. “He threw me a curveball and I sat on it and hit it to left.”

The score was 3-1 from the middle of the second until the bottom of the fifth when Lucas Farner and Ulin started the inning with consecutive singles.

Surma came to the plate with one out and a passed ball on the first pitch to him again put two runners in scoring position.

“He threw me a high fastball and I went up there and got it,” said Surma, who sent the 1-0 pitch through the middle for the last two Taylor North runs.

Surma’s efficiency meant Taylor North got five runs out of its eight chances with runners in scoring position while Hamilton managed two runs in 14 opportunities.

An error-free defense turned a double play when it was still a two-run game in the fifth inning and got an extra out when Thorning quickly spotted and threw out the confused base runner. Farner, the shortstop, started the double play that Van Belle turned from his second base position.

The rest came from Van Belle and Ulin pitching through difficult situations on a day when they threw almost as many balls (62) as strikes (74).

Van Belle struck out the last batter of the first, the last two of the second and again in the third, starting a stretch of five straight strikeouts that included striking out the side in the fourth as he arrived at the 85-pitch limit.

“That’s been Ethan,” manager Thorning said. “He wants something so bad that when he puts his mind to it, he’s a bulldog.

“ … We knew that there was some location spots that he missed, which is rare for him. He still threw the ball hard and he still threw well. We don’t really stress too much, because he typically gets us out of those spots against big teams with big hitters.”

Ulin walked three in his two innings, but also gave up just one run, a bases-loaded walk that brought the go-ahead run to the plate. He was thrilled to see Furkas settling under the last flyball.

“I had a rough two innings out there,” he said. “ … I was a little worried there, but once I got out of it and got him to pop up, I was so happy. It was beyond words.”

Ulin got the last out on Chance Retherford, the third batter in the Hamilton order and the team hit leader during the World Series.

Taylor North got plenty of production from its top four of Farner, Ulin, Cameron Thorning and Surma, who combined to go 6-for-11 in the game with five runs and four RBIs.

Thorning led all players at the World Series with three homers and nine RBIs. Surma, batting behind him in the order, finished right behind him with eight.

“Cameron obviously is a special ballplayer,” Rick Thorning said of his son. “But, there’s a reason why Jackson Surma is batting behind Cameron and there’s a reason why Gavin’s batting in front of him. These guys have been doing it all year.

"Jackson has been doing what he did today all year. It’s really hard to pitch to that.”

Farner went 7-for-18 (.389) in the World Series, tying Thorning for the team lead of seven runs.

Taylor's Jackson Surma hits a two-run single in the first inning.

Ulin, who had a win, save and 0.95 ERA in his two pitching appearances, batted .313 with five hits and four runs scored.

Thorning finished with a team-best .467 batting average along with 13 strikeouts while not allowing an earned run in five innings as a pitcher.

Surma had a team-high eight hits, half of them doubles, while batting .421.

Van Belle, the winning pitcher, and Chauncy Adkins, who was an efficient 3-for-8 (.375) during the World Series, had Sunday’s other hits.

On the mound, Van Belle finished 2-1 with 18 strikeouts in 10 World Series innings.

Taylor North breezed through the postseason, with just one loss in its last 16 games — coming earlier this week to Hawaii, the team it beat, 2-1, on Saturday, to advance to Sunday's championship game. On Sunday, Taylor North beat the Hamilton, Ohio, team it also beat in its Great Lakes Regional final. Two teams from each U.S. regional advanced to Williamsport this year, with no international teams because of COVID-19.

The run by Taylor North caught the attention of baseball fans and dignitaries all over Michigan, with the Tigers announcing scores at Comerica Park, college coaches sharing words of encouragement on Twitter, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sending congratulation and good-luck messages on social media, and Michigan basketball star Hunter Dickinson even attending a game earlier in the tournament.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch taped a message Sunday morning.

"Bring that championship home," Hinch said from Comerica Park. "Play hard, have fun, score some runs, play some good defense. We're rooting for you."

The Tigers tweeted congratulations moments after the final out.

The team, which also included Noah Boren, Max LaForest, Jaxon Shufeldt and Kale Harris, joins the 1959 Hamtramck squad as Michigan’s only champions.

“We’ve done a little bit of research,” manager Thorning said. “We got to watch the videos in the museum and we got to in there and see the pitcher.

“We’re just excited that we’re mentioned with them and to be in there with them.”

Taylor North was just the second champion from the Great Lakes Region (Louisville, 2002); Hamtramck came out of the old Central Region. West Side Little League, the team from Hamilton, Ohio, has been a regular in the Little League World Series, but became the first from its state ever to compete in the championship game.

Meanwhile, this was the first team from Taylor ever to play in the Little League World Series, and the build-up process was a long time coming, with coaches Rick Thorning and Guido Ulin — dads to two star players — leading the charge to merge, amid declining enrollment, three of the city's Little Leagues into one, to help assemble a greater All-Star team for postseason play.

2021 Taylor North championship roster: Chauncey Adkins, Noah Boren, Lucas Farner, Jakob Furkas, Kale Harris, Max LaForest, Jaxon Shufeldt, Jackson Surma, Cameron Thorning, Gavin Ulin, Ethan Van Belle, manager Rick Thorning, coach Guido Ulin.

1959 Hamtramck championship roster: Sidney Cline, Art “Pinky” Deras, Reggie Ferrebee, William Heald, Kenneth Jones, Steven Lepkowski, Michael Milewski, Mark Modich, Joseph Piasecki, Gregory Pniewski, James Polick, Matthew Prybysz, Mark Scott, John Zarembski, manager Gene Piontkowski.

LLWS stats

Hitting: Cameron Thorning, .467/.526/1.133, 2B, 3 HRs, 9 RBIs; Chauncey Adkins, .375/.444/.375; Ethan Van Belle, .333/.375/.333, RBI; Gavin Ulin, .313/.368/.313, 2 RBIs; Jackson Surma, .421/.421/.632, 4 2Bs, 8 RBIs; Jakob Furkas, .333/.444/.400, 2B, 2 RBIs; Jaxon Shufeldt, .250/.222/.250, 3 RBIs; Kale Harris, .333/.333/.333, RBI; Lucas Farner, .389/.450/.556, 2B, 3B, RBI; Max LaForest, .133/.133/.133, 2 RBIs; Noah Boren, .167/.286, .333, 2B, 2 RBIs

Pitching: Cameron Thorning, 5 IP, SV, 13 SO, BB, 0.00 ERA, .600 WHIP; Ethan Van Belle, 10 IP, 2-1, 18 SO, 6 BB, 1.20 ERA, 1.800 WHIP; Gavin Ulin, 6.1 IP, 1-0, SV, 6 SO, 5 BB, 0.947 ERA, 1.263 WHIP; Jackson Surma, 3.1 IP, 1-0, 5 SO, 3BB, 9.00 ERA, 1.800 WHIP; Jakob Furkas, 8.2 IP, 1-0, 7 SO, 3 BB, 1.385 ERA, .808 WHIP; Max LaForest, 1.2 IP, SV, 1 SO, 1 BB, 14.40 ERA, 2.400 WHIP

Making them count

How Taylor and Ohio fared with runners on base Sunday.

Runners on base

Taylor North: 5-for-14, one strikeout, double play, five RBIS

Hamilton, Ohio: 4-for-15, one hit batter, double play, two RBIs

Runners in scoring position

Taylor North: 2-for-8, one strikeout, five RBIs

Hamilton, Ohio: 1-for-9, three walks, one hit batter, four strikeouts, double play, two RBIs

Bases loaded

Taylor North: None

Hamilton, Ohio: 0-for-5, one walk, three strikeouts, one RBI

Tom Robinson is a freelance writer; staff writer Tony Paul contributed

The 1959 Hamtramck team that won the Little League World Series.

Complete coverage

Long-discussed merger leads to loaded team, Taylor's first trip to Little League World Series

Photos: Meet the Taylor North Little League team

Photos: Taylor North 5, Ohio 2

Game 5: Taylor North defeats Hawaii, sets up rematch against Ohio for Little League title

Photos: Taylor North 2, Hawaii 1

Game 4: Taylor North rolls past Texas, earns rematch with Hawaii in LLWS

Game 3: Taylor North blanked 2-0 by Honolulu at Little League World Series

Game 2: Taylor North rallies past Texas in Little League World Series

Game 1: Taylor North dominates Florida in Little League World Series opener

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