Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: August 28, 2016 11:13 p.m.
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — As Ryan Harlost stepped to the mound on Sunday, he took it all in.
Chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!” droned over his left shoulder as he dipped it to deliver a warm-up pitch. South Korean arms and flags waved furiously to his right. Little kids who asked for his autograph earlier in the week used makeshift sleds to slide down the hill toward most of the 22,000-plus fans who packed Lamade Stadium.
The Endwell, New York, pitcher admitted it made him uneasy. He sure didn’t show it.
Harlost led New York to the Little League World Series title, striking out eight and limiting South Korea to five hits in six innings in a 2-1 victory. He scored the deciding run on a passed ball in the fourth inning.
“I was a little nervous at first in front of a lot of people but it’s just another game and I felt confident going in,” Harlost said.
But it was more than just another game.
Endwell snapped a five-year championship drought for U.S. teams on Little League’s biggest stage and gave New York its first title since 1964. Huntington Beach, California, won in 2011 and Mid Island from Staten Island won New York’s last World Series championship.
Conner Rush had the New York team’s only RBI to give Endwell a lead it wouldn’t relinquish in the bottom of the fourth. Harlost (2-0) scored the deciding run on a passed ball a batter later.
“I was just thinking get it in play any way you can,” Rush said. “Once that happens, you never know what can happen.”
For a while, it didn’t look like New York hitters would be able to hit anything.
Junho Jeong (1-2) gave up two runs on four hits and struck out nine for South Korea (4-2). He was unflappable for most of the afternoon, working the outside of the plate masterfully for 3 1/3 innings of no-hit ball before Jude Abbadessa broke through in the fourth.
Waking to the plate as Endwell fans along the first base side bellowed “Juuude!” Abbadessa broke up the righty’s no-hit bid with a single to center.
Harlost followed with a liner to the same spot and Rush plated the go-ahead run with a hit that fell in behind the shortstop. Harlost raced home to give New York a 2-0 lead one batter later.
“It’s just been amazing,” Abbadessa said. “Just coming here would be amazing and then our team doing well is even more amazing. It’s been fun the whole week and we’re glad that it turned out this way.”
Yoomin Lee homered for the Asia-Pacific champs from Seoul to halve New York’s lead in the fifth. Harlost’s precision and a stingy New York defense prevented further damage.
In the second, right fielder James Fellows made a running grab at the warning track to rob Sangheon Park of an extra base hit.
With a runner on first an inning later, Harlost snagged a hard-hit liner at the mound, tossed to first to get the putout and escape the third unscathed.
Later in the fifth after Yoomin’s blast halved the score, Abbadessa scooped up a grounder that took an awkward bounce and threw to first for final out of the inning.
“The Mid-Atlantic team is a really good defensive team,” South Korean manager Heesu Ji said. “I’m really proud of my team.”
Minho Choi struck out with runners on first and second to end the game.
Harlost turned toward his dugout on the first-base side but didn’t make it there as his teammates rushed out to dogpile on him near the base line.
Most of New York’s players had been on other teams together before.
More than half of them were on the team that fell to last year’s World Series runner-up Red Land in the Mid-Atlantic Region Championship, leaving them one win shy of qualifying for a trip to South Williamsport.
“It was all of our last years of Little League,” Rush said. “So it’s just awesome to know that we all came together to be the best team in the world.”