SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Mo’ne Davis didn’t have her best stuff when she and her Philadelphia teammates needed it most, and Las Vegas took advantage.
Dallan Cave and Brennan Holligan hit two-run homers, lefty reliever Austin Kryszczuk got out of two big jams, and Las Vegas beat Philadelphia and its star pitcher 8-1 in the Little League World Series on Wednesday night.
Davis, just the 18th girl to play in the Little League World Series and the only one to win a game on the mound, took the loss.
“Mo’ne didn’t have her A game today,” Philly manager Alex Rice said. “At this point, we’re playing to get to Saturday.”
The victory puts Las Vegas in Saturday’s U.S. title game and sends Philadelphia into an elimination game on Thursday night against Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West in a matchup of inner-city teams. The Great Lakes champion beat Pearland, Texas, 6-1 on Tuesday night in an elimination game.
“I think it’s terrific,” Rice said. “I’ve been looking forward to playing Chicago since we got here.”
Davis, the darling of the sports world with her amazing success and poise, was both masterful and ordinary on a night made short because of pitch-count rules.
She allowed three runs and six hits and struck out six in 2 1/3 innings before leaving after 55 pitches. That makes her eligible to pitch again in the U.S. championship game on Saturday.
Davis played first after her stint on the mound and was switched to right field in the top of the sixth, but she dazzled her opponents more than once on the mound with off-speed deliveries and tantalizing pitches just off the plate.
“She’s very crafty,” said Kryszczuk, who picked up the victory. “She’s a great pitcher. That triple in the first was huge and then she settled down. Great job by us to get this victory.”
The grassy hill beyond the outfield fences at Howard J. Lamade Stadium was jammed with so many cheering fans in lawn chairs that it looked like the bleacher section at any ballpark as 34,128 fans craned to see every pitch.
And they had an effect on Las Vegas, an afterthought at best to many before the game.
“The crowd got to us at times. It was hard to communicate,” Las Vegas manager Ashton Cave said. “That’s a big weight to carry on a 13-year-old’s shoulders what goes on publicly. They definitely deserve the attention that they get, but we have the first Nevada team in history in 75 years to make it to this point. To come through and do what we’ve done, we’re just definitely making a mark.”
The 5-foot-4 Davis, who has given the Taney Youth Baseball Association Little League in Philadelphia notoriety no one could have imagined, tries to use the first two innings to get to know the home plate umpire’s strike zone, and the first time through the order gauges where the opposing players don’t like the ball.
It worked like a charm in her first outing in the World Series as she pitched a two-hit shutout. She didn’t get that chance on this night against hard-hitting Las Vegas, which had outscored its first two opponents 25-4.
Davis, her long braids flopping over her shoulders on every pitch, allowed hits to the first two batters as Philadelphia fell behind. Leadoff hitter Zach Hare lofted a soft single to center and Kryszczuk followed with a resounding triple to right center for a 1-0 lead.
Unfazed, Davis struck out the side, getting Holligan looking and Brad Stone and Andrew Matulich swinging.
Philadelphia threatened in the bottom of the first, but Las Vegas right fielder Alex Barker made a dazzling diving catch at the warning track of a drive by Jack Rice to end the inning and strand two Philly runners.
“It was amazing,” said Stone, who found out he was starting in warmups.
After reaching back for something extra to get out of that first-inning jam, Davis sputtered again. Cave slammed a two-run shot to left-center, a liner that just cleared the fence for a 3-0 lead.
Josiah Cromwick and Hare followed with singles, but Davis settled down again and struck out Kryszczuk swinging and Holligan looking again.
She left in the top of the third in favor of lefty Erik Lipson, but she wasn’t through competing. After falling behind 0-2 in the count in her second at-bat, Davis worked a walk with runners at second and third and Zion Spearman scored when the fourth ball bounded away from the catcher.
When Tai Shanahan followed with a perfect bunt single in front of the plate, the Philadelphia fans began chanting “Let’s go Taney! Let’s go Taney!”
But Kryszczuk came on in relief and Las Vegas escaped. He got Lipson looking at a third strike and Eli Simon lined into a double play to end the threat.
In the fifth, Kryszczuk struck out Spearman swinging with two runners on.
Las Vegas tacked on five runs in the top of the sixth, keyed by an RBI double by Hare and Holligan’s homer.
Las Vegas entered the game on a serious roll. The Mountain Ridge Little League champions beat Rapid City, South Dakota 12-2 and then routed Chicago 13-2 in four innings in a mercy-rule game on Sunday behind five homers, a grand slam by Stone and two from Kryszczuk.
Davis began her eye-opening appearance in the showcase event by throwing a two-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory over Nashville. She had eight strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter and needed only 70 pitches to complete the game.
Davis also threw a three-hit shutout to lead Taney to an 8-0 victory over Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship game, so she has a flair for the dramatic.
The glare of the spotlight on Davis and her teammates only grew as newly elected Major League Baseball Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred threw the ceremonial first pitch a day after Davis became the first Little Leaguer to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
“Last week, this week, maybe next week, she’s owned the sports conversation,” Sports Illustrated manager editor Chris Stone said. “How often do you get to say this about a 13-year-old girl? It’s the easiest type of story to identify as a cover story.”