ILLINOIS 6 PENNSYLVANIA 5
By JOHN KEKIS
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Joshua Houston had a clutch two-run single, reliever Cameron Bufford pitched a tense scoreless sixth inning, and Chicago held off gritty Philadelphia 6-5 on Thursday night in a matchup of inner-city teams at the Little League World Series.
The loss eliminated Philadelphia and prevented star pitcher Mo’ne Davis from getting one last shot to put another stamp on what had become her personal playground.
Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West, composed of all back players, is making its first appearance in 31 years in the Little League World Series. The victory sends the Great Lakes champs into the U.S. title game on Saturday against Las Vegas.
Las Vegas, the West champions, beat Philly 8-1 on Wednesday and humbled Chicago 13-2 in four innings in a mercy-rule game last Sunday behind five homers, including a grand slam by Brad Stone and two home runs from Austin Kryszczuk.
Davis, just the 18th girl to play in the Little League World Series and the only one to win a game on the mound, played first base the first two innings against Chicago before re-entering the game at third base in the bottom of the fifth. She had become the darling of the sports world with her amazing success and poise.
Bufford walked Scott Bandura to lead off the top of the sixth, putting the tying run at first. He then struck out Jahli Hendricks, induced Jared Sprague-Lott to hit into a fielder’s choice and walked dangerous Zion Spearman before getting Jack Rice on a fly to right to end it.
Philly trailed 6-2 after two innings but clawed back within a run on Tai Cummings’ long home run to center leading off the fifth.
The grassy hill beyond the outfield fences at Howard J. Lamade Stadium was jammed Wednesday night with 34,128 fans who craned their necks to see every pitch from Davis. With the star right-hander playing the field and not eligible to pitch until Saturday, attendance dipped to 21,119 against Chicago.
The 5-foot-4 Davis and her teammates gave the Taney Youth Baseball Association Little League in Philadelphia an amazing dose of publicity.
In her first outing, Davis pitched a two-hit shutout to become the first girl to win a game in the Little League World Series. In splitting her two starts, Davis pitched 8? innings, allowed eight hits and three earned runs, and struck out 14 with only one walk. She also threw a three-hit shutout to lead Taney to an 8-0 victory over Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game.
Small wonder that during batting practice Wednesday night on the West Coast the Los Angeles Dodgers streamed the Little League telecast on two giant video boards.
The glare of the spotlight on Davis and her teammates had grown exponentially as the Little League World Series unfolded. Television ratings were up 143 percent Wednesday night from the corresponding game last year, and this week, she became the first Little Leaguer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Baseball is trying to lure young African-Americans back to the game, and the opponents Thursday night offered more evidence the strategy is making inroads.
That one inner-city team had to beat another for a spot in the U.S. title game was not lost on Major League Baseball Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred.
“With respect to baseball games, we try to take a position of neutrality,” Manfred said at Lamade Stadium. “I have to tell you a Philadelphia-Chicago matchup is pretty darn good. It’s so wonderful when people turn on their televisions and they see people from very different socio-economic backgrounds in a setting like this. When you have a diverse group like the Philadelphia group, it sends a message that baseball’s a wide-open sport.”
When the two teams finally do return home, they likely will be overwhelmed a little bit more.
“We’ve always had the goal of baseball in the inner cities, how to get more African-Americans to play baseball,” said Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who hung out with the Philly kids and other teams earlier in the day during an appearance for sponsor Subway. “I think it shows it’s working. I don’t think they understand the magnitude of what they’ve accomplished.
“I think they have a grasp of it, but I don’t think they’ll really understand it until they get back.”