By Nick Richardson and Nick Fathergill
After a pair of well-played games on Saturday, the Championship Game of the 2016 Little League Baseball® World Series has been set. The Mid-Atlantic Region Champions from Maine-Endwell, N.Y., will represent the United States, while the Asia-Pacific Region Champions hailing from Seoul, South Korea, will enter the game as the International Champions.
Just three days after Asia-Pacific fell to the Latin America Region Champions, 3-2, the team from East Seoul Little League avenged that defeat by winning 7-2 over their opponents from Aguadulce, Panama, in the International Championship Game.
Asia-Pacific Manager Heesu Ji commented on his team’s resilience after a tough loss to the same team just days earlier, saying, “I’m really satisfied with today’s result. After the last game we regrouped as a team.”
The team’s success came from its ability to get the offense going, something the squad of Little Leaguers® was unable to do in the first game. Seum Kwon and Jaekyeon Kim both drove in two runs, with Kwon’s coming on his third home run in as many days.
“I thought it was going to get caught, so I dropped my eyes,” said Kwon after the game, “but the umpire said home run and I was a little surprised.”
Asia-Pacific also received an outstanding pitching performance from Youbin Choi, who went the distance, striking out 14 batters over six innings while allowing no earned runs.
“I started to have confidence because of the players behind me,” said Choi.
The U.S. Championship Game also featured a matchup of two teams that had faced each other before. Unlike on the International side, however, the result was the same, with the team from New York’s Maine-Endwell Little League defeating the Southeast Region Champions from Goodlettsville (Tenn.) Little League 4-2.
Starting pitcher Michael Mancini was stellar once again, striking out 11 batters in 4.2 innings of work and conceding just one hit to the opposition. His performance left Southeast Manager Joey Hale with nothing but words of praise.
“After the game I gave him a big hug and said, ‘You are something else,’” said Mr. Hale.
The Mid-Atlantic Region Champions mounted all the offense it would need in the bottom of the fourth inning, scoring all four of its runs off Southeast pitcher Brock Duffer. Jack Hopko and James Fellows both drove in a run, but it was Billy Dundon who had the big hit, notching a pinch-hit, two-run single.
“I kind of just stuck the bat out,” said Dundon. When asked what it meant to be U.S. Champions, Dundon simply said, “It means you’re amazing.”
Manager Joe Rush had similar feelings about the enormity of the victory, saying, “I don’t think I can describe it. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Asia-Pacific and Mid-Atlantic will face off at Howard J. Lamade Stadium at 3 p.m. EST on Sunday, on ABC television and online at the WatchESPN app. The Consolation Game to determine the World Series’ third-place team between Latin America and Southeast will take place at 10 a.m. EST on Sunday at Lamade Stadium.