Jackie Robinson West falls 13-2 at Little League World Series
BY SETH GRUEN Staff reporter August 17, 2014 2:57PM
Updated: August 18, 2014 11:23AM
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The crowd. The network-television spotlight. The people lining up hours before the game to watch.
While those factors provided a valuable experience, they also proved intimidating as Jackie Robinson West never found its moxie and lost 13-2 to Mountain Ridge of Las Vegas in four innings Sunday.
The loss was Jackie Robinson’s first of the Little League tournament, which includes qualification dating to the beginning of July.
The Little Leaguers from Morgan Park are down — really down — but not out. They play Cumberland, Rhode Island, in an elimination game at 7 p.m. Monday.
Their manager’s message? They’re a great team that had a bad day.
“They’re 12,” manager Darold Butler said. “So they’re either super happy or they’re super down. They don’t have an in-between yet. I don’t think we figure that out until we’re 21, maybe.
“I’m going to let them know how proud I am tomorrow, and tomorrow they’re going to be the team you’re all used to seeing.”
The team is still thought to be among the favorites to win the tournament, along with Mountain Ridge.
The ABC cameras may have been inconspicuous to Jackie Robinson’s players, but the estimated crowd of 21,272 was an in-your-face reminder that the players weren’t just a bunch of pre-teens.
That appeared to rattle the team early.
Starting pitcher Brandon Green threw a 40-pitch first inning, walking the first three batters before giving up a grand slam. Though the team managed to escape the first inning only down 4-0, it never seemed to recover from that emotional blow.
And emotions are very tangible in the Little League World Series.
Jackie Robinson West looked uncomfortable in the box all game against Mountain Ridge pitcher Brennan Holligan, whose fastball was consistently clocked in the mid-70s.
The thought was that if it could get Holligan to his 85-pitch limit, the high-powered Jackie Robinson West offense could muster one of its big innings.
But Jackie Robinson West pitcher Cam Bufford, who relieved Green in the top of the second, gave up a five-run fourth inning. Holligan had enough pitches remaining to get through the bottom of the inning.
Little League prohibits the media from speaking to players immediately after a loss.
“He kept his composure,” Butler said of Bufford. “I think if I were 12, I’d probably be crying or boo-hooing.”
Jackie Robinson West can expect much of the same atmosphere Monday against Rhode Island.
Their East Coast opponent figures to bring a substantial contingent to the prime-time game, and the boys of Chicago still remain a fan favorite among Little League World Series neutrals.
The pressure? Even greater with their tournament lives at stake.
“Seeing them [Las Vegas] for the first time to me was a good experience,” Butler said. “I know how my kids are. That’s the game they want now. I know how they are.
“They’re really looking to try to get on the field with them again.”
With no margin for error, they’ll have to keep winning to do that.