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Jackie Robinson West awaits rematch with Mountain Ridge

Members Jackie RobinsWest Little League team from Chicago Ill. ride Little League GrSlam Parade as it makes its way through

Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, Ill., ride in the Little League Grand Slam Parade as it makes its way through downtown Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. The Little League World Series tournament begins Thursday, August 14, in South Williamsport, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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Updated: September 24, 2014 6:15AM

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Darold Butler came up with a novel idea on Friday: The Little League World Series without ­baseball.

At first it seemed like a head-scratcher, until one is reminded that the Jackie Robinson West manager and his team have focused on nothing but baseball all summer. Albeit only for a day, the South Side squad didn’t touch a baseball on Friday. They will refocus on the game when they take on Mountain Ridge of Las Vegas on Saturday in the United States championship game.

What did they do? Oh, just kid stuff.

“It’s pretty relaxed,” Butler said. “The kids are sliding down the hill with the cardboard boxes. We just completed an [ice-bucket] challenge with one of our uncles (the name for team escorts) from Little League.

“The kids are relaxed. It’s no baseball now. It’s just about being 11-, 12- and 13-years-old.”

When the team returns to ­Chicago on Monday, they will be taken by bus to Jackie Robinson Park, where fans can await their arrival.

That’s still far off as far as JRW is concerned, with business still pressing in South Williamsport.

As for Friday?

The team won’t get much better with one more day of practice. It can get a heck of a lot more relaxed, though. The players will need to be calm for their rematch against ­powerhouse Mountain Ridge. When the teams last met, JRW was defeated 13-2 on the ­mercy rule, their only loss in the Little League World ­Series.

The kids perhaps were a little too nervous under the national spotlight. They had just come off a 12-run LLWS opener, a SportsCenter appearance and seemingly had become overnight sensations. That might have caused the team to take some overzealous at-bats.

Now, they are more experienced at playing on national television, having staved off elimination three times since being bumped into the losers bracket. Ed Howard might be the team’s best example of that.

After committing a couple of ­errors against Mountain Ridge, Howard has been flawless in the field. He easily has been one of the best-fielding shortstops in the LLWS.

Jackie Robinson West feels ­confident heading into their ­rematch simply because they are more ­relaxed.

“There was a lot of people there,” Howard said of the first game against Mountain Ridge. “I was feeling great. I know we were hitting the ball hard and stuff and just didn’t make the plays. I’ll do better next game.

“I know that I have to run the ­infield, make any play that comes to me, but just play ball and make the play when it comes.”

For all the attention that has been made to its potent batting ­order, the team has been even ­better in the field.

Remember, most of the kids in the LLWS are 12. Errors are a part of the game. But JRW has been nearly flawless in the field — and not just when it comes to making routine plays. The little things have stood out. The team’s speedy outfield cuts off nearly every ball — turning balls that look to be extra-base hits into singles.

“We practice a lot on defense,” center fielder DJ Butler said. “We’ve got to be the better team and make no errors, because if we make no errors we’re going to win the game.”

Said catcher Brandon Green: “Just got to keep practicing at your craft and you got to make sure ­everything you do is fundamentally correct.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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