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Houston’s arm, bat lift Chicago by Vegas in LLWS

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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — After Joshua Houston allowed a two-run home run in the top of the fifth that cost his team the lead, he was face down near the mound and pounded his fist into the turf.

“After that home run, I got scared. Very scared,” he said.

But he recovered to escape further damage and then drove in the tying run with a line single in the bottom half of the inning to push Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West past Las Vegas Mountain Ridge 7-5 in the U.S. final on Saturday and into the Little League World Series title game.

“I thought we were just going to give them the lead,” he said of his feelings after Brad Stone’s two-run shot had put Las Vegas ahead 5-4. “But I thought at some point we were going to get something going.”

Two walks and Houston’s rocket off the glove of the second baseman in the bottom half tied it. A fielder’s choice and an error made it 7-5.

Ed Howard then came on in relief of Houston, getting a 1-6-3 double play to end the game and send the Chicago team up against South Korea, which is seeking its third World Series title in Sunday afternoon’s championship game.

While the Chicago team celebrated on the field and posed for pictures, “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago fittingly played over the public address system.

There were also chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Back in Chicago, friends, family and fans joined in the celebration, too.

“We saw people dancing in the streets,” said Trey Hondras, who hit a two-run homer and had two of his team’s six hits while driving in three runs. “I swear it looked like Michael (Jordan) was still playing back there.”

The Great Lakes Region champions trailed 3-0 after the first inning and 5-4 heading into the home half of the fifth. But they came back against a Las Vegas squad which had rolled over them 13-2 on Aug. 17.

The Illinois team, called “the pride of Chicago” by mayor Rahm Emmanuel, had eliminated the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia, featuring Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’ne Davis, by a 6-5 score on Thursday night in its most recent game.

The latest win was almost too much for exhausted manager Darold Butler to handle.

“It’s still unreal,” he said. “I’m still going through the game in my mind, how exciting it was and how intense it was. Right now it hasn’t hit me.”

The Chicago team is the first member of the Urban Initiative – formed in 1999 to help local Little League programs in low-income urban neighborhoods – to make it to the LLWS since Harlem in 2002.

Despite the earlier rout at the hands of the powerhouse Las Vegas team, Butler had come into the American title game confident. He said he had good reason.

“It’s the players. After losing they were ready to play that team again,” Butler said. “If they could have played them the next day, they were anxious to play them again. They weren’t happy with their performance and they knew they were better than that.”

Las Vegas manager Ashton Cave said his players were in tears after the defeat. He added that the Chicago team clearly had turned things around in the rematch.

“They put the bat on the ball. They hit some tough pitches and they put them in play,” he said. “Because of that, they were able to generate some runs early. When you see teams twice, there’s going to be different results the second time.”

Almost before many in a crowd of 27,428 at Lamade Stadium had even found their seats, Las Vegas took a 3-0 lead against Houston. Three singles loaded the bases before Houston retired two hitters, but Drew Laspaluto lashed a double off the wall in center to clear the bases.

Chicago came right back on Hondras’ line-drive homer to right after Pierce Jones’ leadoff walk. Marquis Jackson then singled and raced all the way to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Darion Radcliff’s hard single.

In the second, Hondras’ single to left brought in Jaheim Benton, pinch-running for Cameron Bufford, who had walked and moved up on a wild pitch by Las Vegas starter Brennan Holligan. Holligan had befuddled Chicago in the earlier meeting, but not this time.

After Stone ripped his line-drive homer for a 5-4 Las Vegas lead, Jackie Robinson West didn’t buckle.

Holligan struck out the leadoff batter in the bottom half, but walked the next two hitters and was replaced by Austin Kryszczuk, who had two hits for the West champs. Houston, next up, hit a foul pop to left that was dropped. Then he tied it with a liner off the second baseman’s glove.

“I thought I was going to be out,” he said of the dropped pop-up. “But on the next pitch I tried to square it up and hit a gap.”

With runners on the corners, Brandon Green’s force-play grounder brought in the lead run. Then Howard’s in-between hop got under Kryszczuk’s glove to make it 7-5.

Howard then shut the door in the sixth.

“We can play baseball for Chicago, too,” he said with a grin.

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

Houston’s arm, bat lift Chicago by Vegas in LLWS

KDWN

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Joshua Houston survived a rocky start to pitch five innings and also brought in the tying run with a line single in the fifth to lead Chicago past Las Vegas 7-5 on Saturday in the U.S. final at the Little League World Series.

The Great Lakes Region champions from Jackie Robinson West advanced to meet South Korea in Sunday’s championship game.

While the team celebrated on the field and posed for pictures, “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago fittingly played over the public address system.

There were also chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Trailing 3-0 after the first and 5-4 heading into the home half of the fifth, Chicago scored three times to win it. Houston’s single tied it after two walks, with runs also scoring on a fielder’s choice and an error.

Ed Howard then came on to close it out for Jackie Robinson West, a member of the Urban Initiative which supports Little League programs in needy urban areas.

Las Vegas, the West Region champs, had topped Chicago 13-2 on Aug. 17 and had outscored the opposition 33-5 in its three victories in South Williamsburg. The game was played under gray skies with an occasional mist of rain.

The weather didn’t dampen the mood of the crowd. Hundreds of kids spent the game sliding down the steep hill in center field on large sheets of cardboard.

The Illinois team, called “the pride of Chicago” by mayor Rahm Emmanuel, eliminated the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia, featuring Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’ne Davis, by a 6-5 score on Thursday night in its most recent game.

Las Vegas threatened before many in a crowd of 27,428 at Lamade Staidum had even found their seats.

Zach Hare blooped a single, Austin Kryszczuk reached on a grounder through the hole and Brennan Holligan had an infield hit – giving them more hits in the first three batters than Chicago mustered against Las Vegas in the earlier meeting. Houston retired Brad Stone on a called third strike and Dillon Jones on a pop, but Drew Laspaluto lined a double off the wall in center that cleared the bases.

In the earlier meeting, Las Vegas had scored four times in the first and never looked back in Holligan’s overpowering two-hit, six-strikeout, four-inning victory.

But Chicago came right back on Trey Hondras’ line-drive homer to right after Pierce Jones’ leadoff walk to cut it to 3-2. Marquis Jackson then singled and raced all the way to third on a wild pitch before scoring on Darion Radcliff’s hard single.

In the second, Hondras’ single to left brought in Jaheim Benton, pinch-running for Cameron Bufford, who had walked and moved up on a Holligan wild pitch. That gave Chicago a 4-3 lead.

Las Vegas had runners in scoring position in both the third and fourth but failed to tie it.

In the top of the fifth, Las Vegas got a one-out double off the left-field wall by Krysczcuk. Holligan, batting third, then hit a long drive to right center. When he made contact, Houston angrily motioned as if to slam his glove to the ground, thinking the ball was out. But it was caught at the warning track.

But three pitches later, on an 0-2 count, Stone ripped a line-drive over the wall in left for a 5-4 lead. This time Houston was face down on the grass for an instant in disappointment.

Holligan struck out the leadoff batter in the bottom half, but walked the next two batters and was replaced by Kryszczuk. Houston, the first batter to face Kryszczuk, hit a foul pop to left that was dropped. On the next pitch, Houston tied it with a liner off the second baseman’s glove.

Hare then came on in relief with runners at the corners and one out and Brandon Green hit a bouncer to third resulting in a force at second, Radcliff scoring to put Chicago ahead for good. After a walk, Howard’s bouncer to second got under Kryszczuk’s glove and Green scored to make it 7-5.

In the top of the sixth, Howard came on for Houston and retired the leadoff hitter on a bouncer back to the mound.

After a bloop single by Alex Barker, Dallan Cave reached on an error. But Josiah Cromwick also bounced back to Howard, who started a 1-6-3 double play to end the game.

The Little League Urban Initiative was formed in 1999 to help local Little League programs in low-income urban neighborhoods. The Chicago team is the first member of the Urban Initiative to make it to the LLWS since Harlem in 2002.

Jackie Robinson West is making its second appearance in South Williamsport after going 2-1 in the 1983 LLWS.

Las Vegas, which will meet Japan in Sunday morning’s consolation game, is the first team from Nevada to make it to the LLWS. That leaves eight states and the District of Columbia unrepresented at the big tournament in South Williamsport.

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP