Greenville’s magical ride through the Little League World Series ran out of gas just three outs from the finish line Saturday.
Leading by five and seemingly in cruise control, the North State All-Stars saw their championship hopes derailed when Lufkin, Texas, stormed from behind for a 6-5 victory in the U.S. title game in Williamsport, Pa. The decisive runs scored on a two-run homer by Lufkin’s Mark Requena with nobody out in the top of the sixth.
Instead of taking on Japan for the tournament championship Sunday, Greenville will now play Mexico in a consolation game at Lamade Stadium.
“I think they got a little uptight, a little nervous out there,” said North State coach Brian Fields, whose team won its first three games of the Series — including an extra-inning victory against Lufkin three nights earlier. “But a game like that, you’ve got to do the little things and we tried to be a little greedy, I think.
“At times we had some baserunning errors, we threw a ball away at third. When you’re playing a good team like Texas, you can’t do that. But I’m proud of those boys.”
Greenville seemed to be cruising to the U.S. title and the date with Japan after scoring twice in the second and three more times in the third.
Bryce Jackson drove in the first two runs with a single to left after Cameron Greenway and JoeJoe Byrne started the rally with hits. But North State might have done even more damage had Will Casey not gotten caught too far off second base on the scoring play.
Byrne drove in two of his own with a solid single to left. He advanced all the way to third on the play when the Texas outfielder overran the ball, then scored on a ground out by Chase Anderson.
The five runs figured to be more than enough for a Greenville pitching staff that had only allowed one run and one hit through its first three games. But the momentum changed abruptly in the top of the fourth when starter Chase Hardee allowed a single to Requena and a home run to center by pinch hitter Clayton Wigley.
Lufkin added two more runs in the fifth, aided by three wild pitches and a throwing error by catcher Jackson, before going ahead for the first time in the game in its final at bat. Collin Ross started the inning by getting hit by a pitch before Requena unloaded his go-ahead homer off North State reliever Chase Anderson.
Requena went 3 for 3 in the game and is responsible for four of the seven hits Greenville has allowed in Williamsport.
“He did a great job hitting,” Fields said of the thorn in his team’s side. “We were throwing him out, then we tried to come in on him and he did a great job of hitting it to left field. He’s one of the best hitters we’ve faced. You’ve got to give him credit.”
Greenville outhit Lufkin 8-6, but only one of those hits came after building its 5-0 lead.
“I told them to hold their heads high,” Fields said. “They have nothing to be ashamed of. They have exceeded all my expectations.