2017 Little League World Series Preview11 min read
It’s that time of the year again, the world greatest sporting event is about to begin in lovely Williamsport, PA. (Yes, the LLWS>March Madness). To get you ready for two weeks of tears, bat flips, errors, strikeouts and insane comebacks, I have compiled a nice tidy preview of all 8 US teams and some predictions for the tournament.
If you’re more the historian type, last year I blogged the Top 10 moments, players, teams and games of the past 10 years of the LLWS so check that out too.
Lets meet the teams (in order of qualification date)
North State Little League – Greenville, North Carolina
Regional Final: 8-6 Win over Peachtree City, Georgia.
This is a deep, talented North Carolina roster who went 4-0 in a loaded SE regional with convincing wins over a talented Florida team and the always strong Goodletsville, TN and Peachtree City, GA. The offense doesn’t have one superstar standout but has multiple talented hitters flooding the top of their lineup, including #16 Carson Hardee and #10 Bryce Jackson. The player to keep closest attention to however is their ace, #15 Matthew Matthijs, who can pump it up into the mid 70’s. He is likely to be the best pitcher on the US side in this LLWS. With Matthijs on the hill and a balanced offense this North Carolina team is definitely one to watch out for.
P.S: Whenever a non-traditional state wins their regional (Georgia and Tennessee usually clean up the SE regional) you got to keep a special eye out for them. This North Carolina team is likely very, very good.
Lufkin Little League – Lufkin, Texas
Regional Final: 2-1 Win over McAllister Park, TX (TX-West)
The Southwest Representative from Texas East ran through the Southwest Tournament with a perfect 4-0 mark featuring two 1 run victories of the always strong McAllister Park LL. This team is paced by superstar P and hitter #16 Hunter Ditsworth who is most certainly hoping to be this years Ryan Harlost or Cole Wagner and lead his team with both the arm and the bat. This team defeating a really talented McAllister Park team not once, but twice in the same week should speak volumes to their abilities. This is definitely a return to power for the SW region, a region that hasn’t put forth a US Champion since 2000 (They got robbed in 2007, s/o to Garrett Williams and Lubbock Texas). This could be their return.
Sioux Falls Little League – Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Regional Final: 4-0 W over Webb City, MO.
Normally I wouldn’t reserve much space for the lowly Midwest champions, as the winner of the region involving Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas is usually all but a lock for the consolation games. However, 2016 charged that, as Johnston, Iowa upset Chula Vista, California in one of the greatest first round upsets of all time and went on to win 2 games in the 2016 LLWS. If Sioux Falls Little League hopes to continue this tradition of competitive midwest teams it will need a major performance from it’s star #23 Marcus Phillips, who can pump 70 MPH heat on the mound. Unfortunately, this team doesn’t have near the depth the legendary Johnston, IA crew featured and will need a round 1 win behind Phillips to avoid early 0-2 elimination.
Fairfield American LL – Fairfield, Connecticut
Regional Final: 10-0 Win over Maine
By no means a new league to the Williamsport scene, Fairfield American LL blew through the New England regional to the tune of a 27-4 combined score in their 3 wins. This team really wasn’t challenged in the NE regional, but I expect much tougher sledding in Williamsport. #13 Ethan Righter is their ace, and while he is a solid #1 from a NE representative (Chad Knight remains the gold standard) I don’t love his chances in game 1 vs. New Jersey. Still, Righter will only need to keep the game close as Fairfield has a real bash-bros combination hitting 2nd and 3rd in #17 Mattthew Vivona and #24 Michael Ianazzo. This Fairfield team will be able to puts runs on the board, the only question is whether they be able to keep runs off of it.
Walla Walla Valley Little League, from Walla Walla, Washington.
^Their picture hasn’t been uploaded to the LLWS website as of this blog^
Regional Final: 4-3 W over Oregon
This Washington team went 4-1 in a meh Northwest Regional, avenging their earlier loss to Oregon in the finals. Frankly, I expect this team to go 0-2 and land in the consolation games. Their ace Caiden Thomsen ain’t bad, but I can’t see him taking down West in game 1, and they don’t have an arm or enough power bats behind him to win an elimination game 2.
Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores LL – Grosse Pointe, Michigan
Regional Final: 6-3 W over Hinsdale, Illinois (And for that, we are forever in debt to Gross Pointe Woods-Shores LL)
Little League name sound familiar? May I re-introduce you to 2013’s favorite son, the Swag Daddy
This year’s Gross-Pointe team shares a very significant trait with the swag daddy, they are fucking huge. This Great Lakes team is the textbook definition of a team of overgrown kids playing on a way too small LL field, and my usual disdain for that nearly had me rooting for a way undersized and overmatched Hinsdale team. Luckily my hate for Hinsdale won out and we got some #HinsdaleTears and they got sent packing. This Great Lakes team doesn’t really have a pitcher who will scare you like Mattjis or Ditsworth, but their lineup is full of talented hitters led by SS #6 Joey Randazzo, OF #8 Drew Hill, OF #15 Joey Wisniewski, #23 Jordan Arseneau and 6 foot twins Jack and Ryan Jones (#21 and #24). This team probably won’t be winning any 2-1 pitchers duels, but their offense should keep them in every game, and their size will put pressure on these high velocity pitchers to keep them in the yard.
P.S: I hate Hinsdale as much as anyone, but I actually feel for the Hinsdale pitcher #2 who had a 1st and 4th inning meltdown and delivered #HinsdaleTears for us. 1, he is going to have to live with those meltdowns on YouTube or whatever forever and more importantly, 2, the kid had flat dominated the entire way to this state title when things just kinda went to shit in a regional final against a team full of overgrown teens who had already lost once when Hinsdale had yet to lose. Yes, the “hadn’t faced adversity” label and ensuing meltdown fit perfectly with the Hinsdale villain role, this kid had seriously shoved the entire run until this point. In the damn Illinois State Title he had a 14K no hitter, so these Michigan boys barreling him up undoubtedly rattled him, and the dad refusing to come out to talk in the 1st and their mental defensive meltdown behind in the 4th totally broke him. At 12, we’ve all been there. I just can’t muster it up to not feel for the kid, despite how precious those #HinsdaleTears were at the time. Hopefully he goes to Benet or Fenwick or Naz or something down the road though.
Holbrook LL – Jackson, New Jersey
Regional Final: 8-3 W over Maryland
When I started watching the LLWS religiously back in 2006, Mid-Atlantic was always an afterthought region, kinda like Great Lakes. Yes, they provided the occasional good team but generally speaking they were fighting for a US Semi Final berth at best. In the last 2 years things have changed however, as Lewisberry, PA and Maine-Endwell, NY have represented the US in the LLWS Championship game the previous two seasons. This years Jackson LL team from NJ is cut from the same cloth. This New Jersey team can flat out RAKE behind the unquestioned best player in this tournament, #23 Chris Cartnick. This kid hitting anything less than 3 HR’s this week in Williamsport would seriously surprise me. Cartnick is no one man show however, just like the Lewisberry team that surrounded Cole Wagner with pop all throughout the order, this New Jersey team complements Cartnick with sluggers like #20 R.J Vashey, #21 Tai Mann and #18 Drew Ward who need to be feared. In the regional final this team tossed up a 7 spot in 2 innings against a Maryland Pitcher who would be one of the better arms in this tournament had they advanced. This team is ready to RAKE. The downside here is they are without a true ace, so going up in a showdown with a Hunter Ditsworth type that can dominate on the mound and in the batters box could be their Achilles heel. Still, watch out for flying objects against New Jersey.
Santa Margarita LL – Rancho Santa Margarita, California
Regional Final: 11-7 W over St. George, Utah.
Surprise Surprise, Southern California won the West. Once again, the West sends us the finest team from baseball rich Southern California, with this years Ranch Santa Margarita team looking to make up for last years Chula Vista disaster when they went a measly 1-2. This years Rancho Santa Margarita team is solid top to bottom, but the real story is their 2-3 combo of #23 Bobby Gray and #21 Drew Rutter. Gray is the classic early puberty man-child who touches mid 70’s on the mound and can hit the ball a mile, as he did in the West semi-final against Hawaii. That being said, he really just is not the pitcher recent West aces like Victor Lizaraga and Grant Holman. Rutter is the real star here, as his short sweet lefty swing should challenge Chris Cartnick for the HR title. Per usual, this team will enter Williamsport the pre-tournament favorite having proved their worth with a spotless run through both the Southern California state tournament and the West regional tournament. This teams true advantage over the competition lies in that strength of schedule they have already seen, and the classic So. Cal deep army of pitchers.
New Jersey over Connecticut
- New Jersey simply outslugs NE to a 12-5 win.
Texas over Michigan
- Hunter Ditsworth proves to be too much for Michigan, Texas 5-2
California over Washington
- Drew Rutter and Bobby Gray take care of an overmatched Washington team, California 9-2. California saves Bobby Gray for round 2 instead starting Rutter.
North Carolina over South Dakota
- Marcus Phillips can’t shutdown a solid North Carolina offense, and North Carolina smartly saves their ace Matthijs for the next round, North Carolina 10-1
Michigan over Connecticut
- In an offensive showdown, Michigan beats the Fairfield boys 11-9 in one of the more entertaining games of the tournament.
South Dakota over Washington
- South Dakota advances on a 5-4 error filled win.
New Jersey over Texas
- Without Ditsworth Texas just simply can’t slow down the New Jersey bats. NJ wins 10-7.
North Carolina over California
- A rested Matthew Matthijs out duels Bobby Gray and North Carolina wins 5-3.
California over Michigan
- Michigan tee’s off on California’s #3 but the lack of arms ultimately does them in, as California survives a scare, 12-8.
Texas over South Dakota
- The mismatch of the tournament, Texas manhandles South Dakota 13-1.
Texas over California
- Hunter Ditsworth returns from resting the mandatory 4 days to once again dominate and Texas moves on, 10-2.
New Jersey over North Carolina
- In the US Semifinal North Carolina finds itself unable to slug with New Jersey, NJ moves on 10-5.
North Carolina over Texas
- No Ditsworth or Matthijs, the two best pitchers in the tournament, leads to a slightly underwhelming and sloppy US Semi-Final, but North Carolina moves on behind a deeper pitching staff, 8-6.
8/26, US Championship
New Jersey over North Carolina
- Matthijs proves no match for the New Jersey boys who have taken the nation by storm at this point, NJ 11-5
A Mid-Atlantic 3 peat.
8/27, LLWS Championship
Japan over New Jersey
New Jersey falls just short of winning it all and the trophy heads back overseas to Asia.
Top 5 Players of the 2017 LLWS
- Chris Cartnick, New Jersey
- Hunter Ditsworth, Texas
- Drew Rutter, California
- Tai Mann, New Jersey
- Bryce Jackson, North Carolina