SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Things have come easy at the Little League World Series for the team from Las Vegas.
The West Region champions have steamrolled three opponents by a combined score of 33-5, cruising along mostly under the radar.
Players expect things to get a lot tougher when they renew old acquaintances with Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West in the U.S. final on Saturday.
“We played them before and beat them 13-2,” said Austin Kryszczuk, who had three hits in as many at-bats, scored three times and had three RBIs in that game. “We expected a dogfight that game. But (this time) it’s not going to be 13-2. This game is going to be, like, 2-1. A very tight game.”
Maybe so. But Las Vegas has had an easier time in the tournament than scorekeepers have had spelling Kryszczuk.
In the Aug. 17 meeting with Chicago, Las Vegas outhit Jackie Robinson West 13-2 behind Brennan Holligan’s sterling pitching. He struck out six and walked two, making short work of the game thanks to the offensive onslaught backing him.
Leadoff hitter Zach Hare, who also drove in three runs and scored three against Chicago, believes he and his teammates have to guard against being overconfident – or expecting a repeat in the rematch.
“Some people may think it’s going to be easy or something,” he said. “We’ll just have to keep our minds straight and work harder.”
A Las Vegas team had never before reached the Little League World Series. Now it’s within one more win of taking on an International team – the winner between Seoul and Tokyo, also on Saturday – in the championship game a day later.
Despite its domination, Las Vegas has gone relatively unnoticed through the tournament.
East Region champ Philadelphia and megawatt star Mo’ne Davis have stolen a lot of the headlines – along with Chicago. The Jackie Robinson West squad is the first Urban Initiative team to reach the World Series since 2002.
Winning in obscurity is just fine with the team from the desert.
“It’s not a bad deal,” said coach Roland Watkins. “As (manager Aston Cave) called it the other day, we’re sort of Team Incognito. We’d rather stay under the radar because that allows us to focus on the things we need to do.”
Chicago manager Darold Butler actually believes the lopsided loss to Las Vegas helped his team focus in its 6-5 knockout win over Philadelphia.
“I really did feel like the game we lost was a blessing,” Butler said.
Butler also believes his team might take it as a challenge, so thoroughly was it beaten in the first meeting.
“It’s hard to beat a team twice,” he said. “These guys here are so competitive and they want a shot. I can’t see (this) game being exactly like it was the first time. We’re going to be prepared.”
Getting 12- and 13-year-olds to focus is an uphill task, as any parent knows. Certainly, coaches know it, too.
But Cave and his coaching staff must be doing a good job of it, because their team has run-ruled two teams already (an umpire calls the game when a team is up by 10 or more runs after the four innings).
“You never know what you’re going to get, you never know who’s going to show up at the field that day,” is how Bob Kryszczuk, a coach and Austin’s dad, put it. “As a coaching staff, we just try to keep them relaxed. They play much better when they’re relaxed.”
And it’s much easier to relax when you’re averaging 11 runs a game and winning by an average of more than nine runs a game.
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