SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - The end came abruptly.
Mo'ne Davis threw her 55th pitch in Taney's Little League World Series game Wednesday night, and the batter swung and missed. It was the top of the third inning, and the pitching phenom had just struck out her sixth hitter.
Manager Alex Rice popped from the first-base dugout at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Davis' night on the mound was over early in Taney's 8-1 loss to Mountain Ridge Little League of Las Vegas.
To the casual fans who tuned in to watch the hottest act in sports, Rice's decision may have seemed strange with the Dragons trailing by 3-0. But to many of the 34,128 in attendance, accustomed to the unique rules governing Little League, the move was a calculated gamble.
Pitch counts are closely monitored, and Davis neared an important threshold. By leaving at that moment, she was charged with 49 pitches - her total when she began pitching to her final hitter.
That will allow her to return on two days of rest, and potentially pitch in Saturday's U.S. championship. Had Davis thrown more than 50 pitches, the rules would have forced her to sit out for three days. She would not have been able to pitch again unless Taney reached the final game of the World Series. Davis would be allowed to throw as many as 85 pitches on Saturday.
Of course, there is no guarantee that Taney will still be here to play Saturday night in a rematch against Las Vegas. The Dragons must beat Jackie Robinson West of Chicago on Thursday to remain alive.
The Dragons' relief pitching kept them in the game for a while in Davis' absence. Erik Lipson and Joe Richardson combined to pitch 22/3 innings of scoreless relief. Mountain Ridge did not score again until the top of the sixth, when it tacked on five insurance runs.
The path for Taney is steeper now, but not insurmountable. Jared Sprague-Lott, who started Sunday, will likely get the ball Thursday.
Davis will wait, resting and hoping for one more chance.