SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- They were gracious as other teams got more attention, resilient when they were knocked down. And now Chicago's Jackie Robinson West has a chance to make its own final statement, advancing to Saturday's U.S. championship at the Little League World Series after a 6-5 victory over Philadelphia on Thursday night.
"I'm feeling excited, happy, speechless," Chicago coach Darrell Butler said. "It's hard to take in right now, but we're [one of] the top two teams in the United States in Little League baseball. There's what, 7,000 teams? I mean, just thinking about that, I don't know, give me 24 hours and I can give a way better answer, but right now it's unreal.
"I think the kids are way more calm than I am. I want to jump, climb up on this table, but I'm afraid it might not hold me."
The game pitting the tournament's only two inner-city squads did not go exactly the way Chicago planned, said Butler, who elected to start Marquis Jackson, the team's flame-throwing closer. But in the end, with Philly runner on first and third, Cameron Bufford was the hero, getting Jack Rice to fly out to right.
"Today's game showed how focused they were," Butler said. "They didn't hit the ball as well as I'd like and we didn't get the calls I thought we possibly could have had. Not complaining, but we had to deal with a lot of adversity today, and once again, they found a way to get it done."
One of the strongest offensive teams in the tournament had only six hits but responded to two Philly runs in the top of the first with four of its own in the bottom of the inning, with the key hit a two-run single by Josh Houston.
"It's always a new guy," Butler said. "It's a full team effort."
JRW moves on having won fans in Philly.
"They're incredibly fun to watch," Philadelphia coach Alex Rice said. "I see a lot of them in us. You never like to lose, but it was terrific to play them."
The victory means Chicago gets another shot at a Las Vegas team that roundly beat it 13-2 on Wednesday -- a game Butler said "woke up" his team.
"I know it's hard to beat a team twice," Butler said, "but these guys here are so competitive, they want the shot. We're blessed to have a chance to play them again. I can't see that game end exactly like it did the first time.
"We're going to be ready, we're going to prepare, we're looking forward to it."
After Thursday's game, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a congratulatory statement.
"Once again, the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars have showed why they are the pride of Chicago. Congratulations to Coach Butler and his team on another exciting victory. They continue to bring out the best in people as neighborhoods throughout the city have come together to support these kids. I can't wait to root for them in the United States championship game on Saturday, but regardless of the outcome, they have already won the hearts of an entire city."