SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Philadelphia's Taney Dragons face a tough road in the Little League World Series after an 8-1 loss Wednesday night to a powerful team from Las Vegas at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
It was Taney's first loss of the double-elimination tournament, moving the Dragons to Thursday night's elimination game against Jackie Robinson West of Chicago. The winner will meet the Vegas club, Mountain Ridge, in the U.S. championship game Saturday. The Las Vegas team, the West Regional champion, has beaten both teams by a combined score of 21-3.
The Dragons could only watch as their opponent emptied the dugout and huddled around home plate in the sixth inning. Mountain Ridge's Brennan Holligan circled the bases after zipping a two-run homer to right field. The 6-foot-2 player from Las Vegas virtually sealed Taney's loss.
Taney's ace, Mo'ne Davis, was removed from the game after throwing her 55th pitch in the third inning. The move, which manager Alex Rice said was always the plan, makes her available to pitch Saturday if Taney advances past Chicago. On the day her Sports Illustrated cover hit newsstands, Davis allowed six hits, no walks, and three runs.
Rice said the Las Vegas team was the best Taney had faced this season. He said he didn't think his pitcher was distracted by the extra attention she received this week.
"There's no question that she didn't have her A game today, which she is certainly entitled to," Rice said. "At this point we're playing to get to Saturday. I needed to cover getting there."
The Dragons used four relief pitchers after Davis left the mound. Erik Lipson and Joe Richardson, who both pitched Sunday, combined to allow two hits and no runs in three innings. Taney did not use No. 2 pitcher Jared Sprague-Lott, who is expected to pitch against Chicago. It will be a matchup of the tournament's two inner-city teams.
"I think Little League [and] MLB can all take a look at the product that's going to be on the field and the potential of what they can find in inner cities," Rice said. "You're going to see top-notch, high-quality baseball."
The attendance for Wednesday's game was 34,128, nearly 9,000 more than the attendance of the Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park that afternoon.
"I think for most of the kids, when they are playing they don't really notice it," Rice said of the crowd. "When they do notice it, it's a good thing. I think they're fine."
Taney loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning. The Dragons scored just one run - on a wild pitch - before ending the inning on a strikeout and a double-play line drive.
An inning later, Taney had its first two batters reach base on a walk and a dropped third strike. Sprague-Lott, the next batter, tried to check his swing but ended up putting the ball in play for a fielder's-choice out. Zion Spearman and Jack Rice both struck out to end the inning. Leaving runners in scoring position hurt, Rice said.
"Come into an inning, bases loaded no outs, and if you don't get any production out of that then you know it's not your night," he said.
Davis allowed the game's first two batters to reach base, including Austin Krysczuk's run-scoring triple. The pitcher settled in, striking out three straight batters to strand a Vegas runner on third.
The Las Vegas manager disputed a call with two strikes, two outs, and a man on third. The umpire upheld his initial ruling; Andrew Matulich's drive was a foul ball. Davis fired the next pitch past Matulich to end the inning.
An inning later, Davis allowed a two-run homer by Dallan Cave but escaped by striking out the final two batters and stranding a pair of runners. She walked the first batter of the third inning and bounced back to strike out the next hitter she faced. That was the end of the night for the tournament's leading star. But if her manager's plan works, it is not the end of the star's tournament.