Saturday's US Championship a rematch for the ages

Courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball
Courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball

WILLIAMSPORT, PA (KTRE) - Cue the Rocky music.

Wednesday night's game between the Lufkin All-Stars and the Greenville, NC, team had all the looks of a big prize fight.

And it didn't disappoint.

Lufkin came out in the wrong end of a 2-1 extra-innings game.

Now's the time for the rematch.

This is one of the rare times where the sequel could be better than the original classic.

Lufkin Manager Bud Maddux called Wednesday's game "a great baseball game."

Greenville Manager Brian Fields called it one of the best Little League games he had ever been a part of.

It was Lufkin ace Hunter Ditsworth against a potential trio of aces from Greenville.

It was Ditsworth giving up a first-inning homer to put NC up 1-0. But that's all Ditsworth would give them. He didn't have his typical shut-down stuff. He had to work out of jams but he did it and sometimes that's what great pitchers do.

It was the tension of Greenville not having given up a hit all series long. Chase Anderson retired the first six Lufkin hitters in order and the tension grew from there. But enter Mark Requena, who laced a leadoff double into left field. Requena later scored on an RBI groundout by Chandler Spencer.

So the game was reset to a tie and the tension grew from there, with an announced attendance of more than 14,000.

North Carolina's 6-foot-1 ace pitcher, Matthew Matthjis, came into the game and began mowing down the Lufkin hitters. With that big delivery, he probably seemed to be halfway to home plate before the ball came out of his hand. Lufkin's Collin Ross later said he had a hard time picking up the ball.

Some of the media couldn't even handle the tension. Despite posted rules to stay professional and not cheer for a specific team, members of a North Carolina TV news crew were seen banging the table, loudly second-guessing the umpire calls and giving a Ric Flair "whoooo!" after every one of Matthjis' 11-straight strikeouts.

With Ditsworth laboring all night, his pitch count grew and he was pulled in the sixth inning for Chip Buchanan.

It was Buchanan's first appearance in the Series as a pitcher and he showed a lot of heart. He worked out of a jam in the sixth inning but he had the top of the order coming up in the seventh.

After an error, a walk and a basehit, Maddux found himself with a no-out, bases-loaded situation. But the coaching veteran knew what had to be done and he brought the outfield and infield in and hoped to have things bounce his way.

Buchanan executed perfectly by inducing a grounder right to first base. But the throw got away from the catcher and Greenville found themselves on the right side of the scoreboard.

That's baseball sometimes. Things can be executed perfectly but they still don't work out. Maybe a player flashed a hand in front of the fielder on the throw or maybe it was just an accident. We may never know.

But that's what makes baseball great. The plays we can argue about and the ones we can smile about.

And that's just round one. Saturday is the rematch and it has all the makings of an even bigger game.

Lufkin will march out Ross, who said he was able to scout Greenville in the first game and has an idea on how to pitch them. A disciplined Ross is a very dangerous Ross.

As for Greenville's right-handed Randy Johnson, he's not going to be a concern Saturday. He exceeded his pitch limit Wednesday and will not be available.

That's another thing that makes baseball great. Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. While Ditsworth was working out of jams, he was keeping Lufkin in the game and keeping Matthjis in the game too.

Greenville does have two more aces left, one which Lufkin hasn't seen yet.

But the Lufkin bats are hungry after Wednesday's one-hitter. They took out some of the frustration on Thursday in a 14-4 win over Connecticut. But that's not enough to satisfy their hunger.

They'll come in Saturday with a more disciplined approach. Will it be enough? The Lufkin boys think so.

So here we go. The rematch. But this time it's for the title. The US Championship.

It's a chance for redemption against an extremely tough team and a chance to represent their country.

It doesn't get much bigger than this.

Lufkin faces off against Greenville at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday. The game will be broadcast on KTRE.

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