SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - With the Little League World Series title game looming Sunday, the Endwell, New York, players planned on taking a break from baseball if only for one evening.
They’ll retreat to their dorms near Lamade Stadium and dive into their other preferred pastime.
“A lot of ping pong,” infielder Jack Hopko said.
Hopko broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth and Michael Mancini led struck out 11 in a 4-2 victory over Goodlettsville, Tennessee, in the U.S. final Saturday.
The Mid-Atlantic champs will try to win their first title against international winner South Korea on Sunday. South Korea beat Panama 7-2 earlier Saturday in the international final.
“I don’t think I can describe it, maybe the boys can,” New York manager Scott Rush said. “Just an unbelievable feeling.”
New York players Mancini, Hopko, Billy Dundon and Jude Abbadessa appeared in the postgame media room and all used the same word - “Amazing.”
It was Mancini’s pitching that inspired his teammates, shut down Goodlettsville and earned him praise from the opposing manager and a standing ovation from Endwell fans who packed the first-base side of Lamade Stadium when he exited in the fifth.
Mancini allowed just one hit through 4 2/3 innings and his offense came alive in the fourth. Then, Dundon drove in two runs, and Hopko and James Fellows each had an RBI for New York.
“The curveball is usually my biggest pitch because I know if I’m down in the count I can throw that and get back up and maybe get them out with that pitch,” Mancini said. “So you never know what can happen with that pitch.”
Tennessee manager Joey Hale praised his players’ approach while acknowledging his hitters struggled to find Mancini’s elusive curve ball for much of the game.
Jon Luke Simmons broke up Mancini’s no-hit bid in the top of the fifth. After Mancini got his 11th strikeout one batter later, Rush opted to replace him with Abbadessa.
“He doesn’t make mistakes,” Hale said. “He’s truly polished. Most kids at this age have good breaking balls but they don’t always throw them where they should be thrown. If you watch, man, every ball that crossed the plate was down below the knees. That’s just the mark of a great pitcher.”
New York players said they knew they had a great team as soon as they reconvened earlier this summer. Over half the roster returned from last season when New York fell to eventual World Series runner-up Red Land in the Mid-Atlantic Region final.
“From there on, I pretty much knew we were going to go a long way,” Hopko said. “Just like last year, we played well in regionals but this year we came out on top and this game today, I don’t really know how to describe it. It was a long road and we made it where we wanted to.”
Returning to the regional championship this season, Abbadessa notched the final out from the mound. He did so again on Saturday but not before Tennessee made it interesting.
His team’s final hope, Zach McWilliams gave Tennessee life with a two-run homer off Jude Abbadessa in the top of the sixth. McWilliams’ blast halved New York’s lead, but Abbadessa finished off Goodlettsville.
“It was one inning,” Hale said. “Their inning was better than our inning. I’m just proud of them, second in the United States and to go through what we went through, awesome.”