Where EAST meets the Northwest
LLWS CHAMPIONSHIP. South Korea’s Seum Kwon is forced out at second base for
the second out of the sixth inning by Maine-Endwell Little League’s Jude
Abbadessa during the Little League World Series (LLWS) championship baseball
game in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. South Korea lost the game, 1-2. (AP
Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
South Korea’s Jun-ho Jeong (right) runs toward home plate as Ryan Harlost
scores the go-ahead run on a wild pitch during the fourth inning of the Little
League World Series (LLWS) championship game. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #19 (October 3, 2016), page 8.
Strong South Korea loses a squeaker in Little League final
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
At a time when South Korean players have made further inroads to Major League
Baseball, it seemed like a perfect year for South Korea to also win the Little
League World Series. It would hardly have been unexpected, since Asian teams had
won the last four straight Little League championships and appeared in nine of
the last 10. But South Korea was edged out in the final by a talented squad from
Endwell, New York, in the closest game since the last U.S. victory in 2011.
The South Korean team from East Seoul performed well in the first two rounds,
outscoring their opponents 13-0. In their opening game against Curacao, South
Korea took advantage of the wildness of the starting pitcher. They scored their
first two runs on two walks and two hit batsmen, then pitchers Jun-ho Jeong and
Sang-heon Park combined for a three-hit, 15-strikeout shutout.
With the win, the team from East Seoul next faced Canada, who had defeated
Japan, 10-4, in their first game. South Korea faced even less resistance from
the Canadian squad, knocking their starting pitcher out of the game in the
second inning. Left fielder Moo-sung Kim started with a single, Won-tae Cho
followed with a two-out double, the next batter walked to load the bases, and
shortstop Jung-taek Ru singled to drive in two runs.
Canada pulled its starting pitcher, but it didn’t matter who faced the boys
from East Seoul. South Korea scored four more in the fourth inning and again in
the fifth, ending the game due to Little League’s 10-run rule. South Korea again
dominated on the hill, with three pitchers combining to hold Canada to a single
East Seoul faced its first challenge against Panama in a hard-fought contest
in which both teams combined to put just five runners on base in the first three
innings. South Korea finally broke through in the fourth inning, pushing two
runs across without registering a single hit.
Pitcher Jaek-yeong Kim held Panama to two hits through four innings before
walking one in the fifth. Jun-ho Jeong, who had dominated in the first game,
came on in relief — only to walk one batter and deliver a three-run home run to
Esmith Pineda. Unable to rally in the sixth, the boys from East Seoul dropped
their first game of the tournament, 2-3.
Now in the consolation bracket, South Korea faced Mexico, who didn’t give
them much competition. Seum Kwon homered in the first and second innings, and
Jaek-yeong Kim knocked a three-run homer in the second, while Sang-heon Park and
Won-tae Cho split time at pitcher to hold Mexico to a single hit, striking out
Their next game was a rematch against Panama in the international final, with
a much different result from the earlier affair. Instead of a pitching duel, it
became a slugfest — at least for South Korea. The teams traded runs in the first
inning before South Korea broke the game open in the second inning, scoring five
times on a single and two home runs. They added another homer in the third, and
Panama managed to score another run in the fifth, but it was not nearly enough,
and South Korea advanced to the championship game, 7-2.
Their opponent, Maine-Endwell Little League, had emerged undefeated from
their preliminary games, but they were not unscathed. They surrendered 15 runs
in four games, the worst of the lot being a 13-10 win over Bowling Green,
Kentucky. Their starting pitcher, Ryan Harlost, gave up eight runs in a little
over three innings of work in that game.
After Maine-Endwell’s 4-2 victory over Goodlettsville, Tennessee in the U.S.
final, Harlost took the mound against South Korea. Harlost’s performance against
Bowling Green was deceptive, however, since he had also notched the win in their
opening game and a save against Tennessee. He hadn’t given up a run in either
game, yielding just three hits in nearly six innings of work.
South Korea faced the dominant version of Harlost in the finals, though they
had excellent pitching of their own. Starting pitcher Jun-ho Jeong didn’t allow
a hit for the first three innings, striking out the side in the second and third
innings. But Maine-Endwell broke through in the fourth inning, putting together
three straight singles to score twice.
In South Korea’s half of the fifth, Yoo-min Lee halved the lead with a solo
home run, and Seum Kwon led off the sixth with a single, representing the tying
run. But the team from East Seoul could not muster another hit to drive him in,
and the U.S. squad won for the first time in five years, 2-1.
The success of Asian teams, and South Korea in particular — they won the
title in 2014 — echoes a similar trend in the major leagues. Korean players like
Jung-ho Kang, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dae-ho Lee, and Hyun-soo Kim have all made their
mark in Major League Baseball over the past three seasons. As South Korean
Little Leaguers continue to show such promise, it’s only a matter of time before
those numbers rise even more.
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