Texas’ Colten Georgi tried tracking down Louis Lappe’s towering shot in right field. Georgi back peddled to the warning track and tried to snag it, but could only watch as it cleared the outfield fence.
The shot from Lappe was a crushing three-run home run that deflated what little momentum Texas had left on Saturday afternoon. Texas scored a run just a half inning prior and cut the deficit to two and looked like maybe, they could rally and get a spark.
Lappe’s homer extinguished that spark in Texas while keeping their own fire lit.
“That home run kind of silenced them and it just was like a killer. After that, it was like ours for the taking,” Lappe said.
Lappe and California defeated Texas, 6-1, to win the United States championship and advance to Sunday’s Little League World Series championship game at 3 p.m. at Lamade Stadium.
Texas will play another game, however, as the Needville Little Leaguers will face Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei in the third-place game at Lamade Stadium at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. Texas will get a shot at a World Series title by facing defending World Series runners-up Willemstad, Curacao.
This is what California manager Danny Boehle has been talking about for years for his El Segundo Little League all-stars. It was three years ago when Boehle started talking about going to the World Series and winning it all. Now, his all-star team is a game away from accomplishing that hefty goal and being crowned the world’s best team.
“It’s great that we were the U.S. champs but our mission was to win the World Series. The city itself of El Segundo … they’ve never, ever seen something like this,” Boehle said.
It was DJ Jablonski who tried to spark Texas and give them the lift they desperately were trying to get on Saturday. In the top of the fifth, Jablonski led off with a double that hit the outfield fence. A batter later, Easton Ondruch walked and Jablonski took advantage of a wild pitch to score, making it a 3-1 deficit.
But it was short lived as Lappe crushed his three-run home run over the right-field fence in the bottom of the inning.
Lappe had an outstanding performance on Saturday, going 2 for 3 with a home run and five RBIs while also recording 10 strikeouts on the mound, throwing 5 1/3 innings. In those 5 1/3 innings before reaching his pitch count limit and ended with 10 strikeouts, one walk, three hits and one run allowed.
“Before this one, I was kind of struggling, so I just changed my approach and I’ve been hitting much better,” Lappe said. “Pitching wise, everything has stayed the same since districts and it’s been working so far. So I won’t change that.”
It’s an understatement to say he’s been hitting better. Lappe’s been lights out at the plate. The leadoff batter was 3 for 3 on Saturday with a home run, double and single and scored all three times.
With two outs in the top of the first inning, Texas had back-to-back batters reach in Jablonski and Ondruch with consecutive singles, but Lappe induced a fly to left field to get out of the threat. From there, it was three consecutive three up, three down innings for Texas as the Southwest Regional champions couldn’t get any sort of offensive rally going.
Texas trailed just 1-0 after the first inning and for manager Andy McRae, he wasn’t disappointed in that moment with how they were playing.
“I thought we’re good, we’re in a good spot. Any time we can keep Louis Lappe in the yard, I thought ‘OK we’re in a good spot,’” McRae said. “And it played out that way for a couple innings. They’re tough.”
Brooks crushed a first-inning home run to leadoff for California over the centerfield fence and put California up 1-0 early.
“Especially after making that extra shuffle that made Jablosnki be safe at first. That really made me a little upset that I needed to get one back,” Brooks said. “Louis said after it ‘you got it back.’”
That he did.
And California kept the pressure on Texas to rally and were in control majority of the game. Just once through six innings did Texas see five batters come up, and that was in the fifth inning.
In the bottom of the third inning, California extended its lead to 3-0. After Colby Lee walked, Brooks hit a double to right field which put two runners on. Lappe then came up and ripped a two-RBI single into center-right to give California the three-run lead and put Texas into a huge hole against an outstanding team.
While he didn’t get to close out the game for Texas, Jablonski threw 4 1/3 innings for the Southwest Regional champions and held his own against California. Jablonski struck out six and was just as solid at the plate, going 2 for 2 with a run scored to lead Texas with two of its three hits.
In his final pitching performance at the Little League World Series — he hit the pitch count limit and is ineligible to pitch Sunday — he had an absolutely spectacular effort in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Lucas Keldorf (double), Max Baker (single) and Declan McRoberts (walk) all reached to load the bases with no outs. Rather than panic, Jablonski just kept pitching his game. And it resulted in three consecutive strikeouts to end the inning and prevent any further damage from happening.
“He’s the No. 1 pick for me if I’m drafting out of the tournament. Out of all these kids here, I’d take him No. 1. You guys didn’t even get to watch him play first base, he’s better there than anywhere else,” McRae said. “I’d take him all day long, he’s tremendous He’s been tremendous all all-star season.”
Needville is a small town in Texas, and for McRae, he’s beyond happy that his all-star team was able to make a name for Needville and accomplish what they did by finishing as one of the top four teams in the world.
“I’m just proud of the boys and how they played through the whole thing. What I told them in the huddle is you’re playing in the U.S. Championship, who would have thought that?” McRae said.
California’s next opponent will be a team that’s beaming with confidence after upsetting favorite Chinese Taipei in the International championship game, 2-0.
McRae is an old school coach. He doesn’t invest too much time in scouting because, as he put it, you have to beat them on the field, not on tape.
“(Former UCLA basketball coach) John Wooden always talked about you can go out and watch all you want and see how people train and work and scout them all you want, but you still have to play us,” Boehle said. “It’s really hard for a 12-year-old to hit his spot every single time like MLB guys can do.”
And Boehle knows Sunday is going to be a battle for the World Series title.
“Do I scout a lot? No. Do I know who they are? Absolutely I do. We’ll go home tonight and watch a little bit of today’s game for them and a couple more games to see who they have to pitch,” Boehle said. “But at the end of the day, you still gotta go out there and battle.”