Las Vegas Comes Up Aces In Win Against Mo'ne Davis And Taney
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The line began forming at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday outside Lamade Stadium, a full 12 hours before the U.S. semifinals and by 11 a.m. had snaked the long way around from home plate to right field, some 2,000 strong.
The national discussion expanded as well in anticipation of Mo'ne Davis' second start of this Little League World Series on Wednesday night, including how much money the Philadelphia pitcher could make in endorsements should she decide to forego her high school sports and NCAA eligibility at the age of 13.
For the sixth straight day, the Philadelphia Inquirer featured Davis on its front page, and somewhere, Gavin Brown was planning his future.
"I'm going to name my first child 'Mo'ne,' " the 8-year-old from Middletown, Pennsylvania, vowed earnestly. "If she's a girl. She'd play baseball, I know that."
What those in Williamsport had to know is that while Davis and her Taney baseball team have been the most compelling club here, their Las Vegas opponents Wednesday night have been the most feared, with bloated numbers on offense and an ace pitcher of their own.
And when it was over, neither Davis nor the four pitchers that followed her could contain them, losing 8-1 to send Vegas to a berth in the U.S. finals Saturday afternoon against the winner of Thursday night's losers' bracket final between Philadelphia and Chicago.
Davis would allow three earned runs on six hits, striking out six Las Vegas batters and walking one in 2⅓ innings, the big blow an RBI triple by Austin Kryszczuk in the first and a two-run home run by Dallan Cave in the second.
Having used less than the maximum number of pitches allowed for a two-day rest between starts (per Little League rules), Davis can pitch again Saturday in the finals, should Philadelphia defeat Chicago on Thursday.
"She knew beforehand she was coming out," Taney coach Alex Rice said. "It wasn't a surprise. The plan was for her to play on Saturday."
Davis would also play first base and right field and finish 0-for-2 at the plate with a walk that resulted in a run on a passed ball in the bottom of the fourth. She also made an error on a ground ball to first.
Davis appeared a bit nervous at first, and who could blame her, what with newly appointed Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred showing up to throw out the first pitch and reflect on what her story signified?
"Fifty years ago, people would have had a list of things women couldn't do that was as long as your arm, and they're doing every single one of them today," Manfred declared. "So I'm not betting against the gender. I think it's a really great story for Little League, a really great story for diversity and equality. And I think we should embrace it and hope she continues to develop."
On the third pitch of the game, Vegas leadoff batter Zach Hare lofted a single to center off Davis, and Krysczuk drilled a liner to the center-field wall to drive in the first run of the game.
But the 5-foot-4, 111-pound eight-grader-to-be then struck out the next three batters -- catching Brennan Holligan looking on a curveball, fanning clean-up batter Brad Stone on a split-fingered fastball and getting Andrew Matulich to swing and miss on a straight fastball.
"She's balanced, and her arm action is smooth and clean and creates arm speed, but her extension at the end, when her arm comes through and her wrist snaps, it reminds me of when I used to see Pedro Martinez," MLB scout Craig Conklin observed after watching Davis' first game here, when she became the first female player to throw a shutout in the Little League Baseball World Series.
"He was only 5-10, but he had long fingers and would snap his wrist at the end, and the baseball would have late giddyup, so at the end, it zips through the strike zone. You can see kids tracking the pitch, but in the end, it has an extra gear. You don't teach that."
But Davis left her fastball up in the second inning as Cave homered to left-center to extend the Las Vegas lead to 3-0.
Rice said he did not believe the immense level of attention affected perhaps the most talked-about person in the country this week.
"I don't think so," he said. "I mean, she's entitled to an off night. I don't want to take away from the Vegas kids. That's a real good team, maybe the best team we've faced this year, but she certainly wasn't locating her pitches as she typically does. I don't think any of the distractions this week impacted that."
A crowd of 34,128 attended the game, with an estimated one million people watching the ESPN telecast. In Philadelphia, the game was expected to draw more TV viewers than the last-place Phillies' game against the Mariners Wednesday afternoon. Attendance-wise, 9,000 more fans were at Lamade Stadium than were at Citizens Bank Park.
The Taney team is clearly the home-state favorite here and is the talk of Philadelphia, which has hosted pep rallies and viewing parties, some arguing that it has only increased an already unhealthy level of pressure on 12- and 13-year-olds. But Rice would not go along.
"I think it's a great thing," he said. "I'd certainly rather be on this side of it than the other, so I tip my hat to the Nevada team. For most of the kids, I think when they're playing they don't notice it. When they do notice it, it's a good thing.
"I think they're fine. I think the stage, the moment, got to a couple of my pitchers there in the end. I put them in a tough spot. I hadn't pitched them in a couple weeks, maybe since regionals. But it is what it is. That was the only time I think the stage got to them."
Taney left runners in scoring position in three different innings, including the fourth, when it had the bases loaded with nobody out. It was then that Vegas ace Kryszczuk entered the game, striking out one batter and forcing the next into a double play.
"If you don't get any production out of that," Rice said, "you know it's not your night."
With Vegas leading 3-0, Davis came up in the bottom of the fourth with runners on second and third and skillfully worked the count full after being down 0-2, fouling off a pitch before drawing a walk. The passed ball that ensued allowed Zion Spearman to score and make a game of it at 3-1.
But the power-hitting Vegas team, which came into the game having outscored its opponents 25-4, scored five runs in the sixth to ensure its spot in the final.
For Philadelphia, Thursday's matchup pits them against an urban team much like their own, a matchup Rice said he has been looking forward to "since we got here."
"They're fine," Rice said of his players. "Look at where we are. ... They can handle a loss. We know we're playing for Saturday, whether we were going to get there tonight or [Thursday], they feel very good about playing on Saturday."