SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – It was a rematch made in Little League heaven Sunday when Ohio faced Michigan for the 74th Little League World Series title.
In the end, a team of all-stars from Taylor, Mich., could call themselves champions after a 5-2 victory at Lamade Stadium.
The teams met in the Great Lakes Regional final in Whitestown, Ind., on Aug. 14 before finding themselves in opposing dugouts during the first final featuring teams from the same regional.
“I never thought I’d even make it here, let alone win the World Series,” said Michigan’s Gavin Ulin, who pitched the final two innings, had two hits and scored two runs Sunday. “It feels great right now, a lot of emotions.”
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Michigan manager Rick Thorning said. “I mean it has, but really the emotions haven’t kicked in yet. Once I get settled and get to see everybody and celebrate, everything’s going to kick in.”
Because of COVID, no international teams participated in the series for the first time since 1975. Instead, 16 teams from the United States – the top two from each regional – made up this year’s field, with two divisions consisting of eight teams each.
The series was canceled last year because of the pandemic.
Michigan, defeated Ohio, 9-1 in the regional final. A team from Michigan last won a World Series title in 1959. Ohio played in a final for the first time.
Michigan starting pitcher Ethan Van Belle worked his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out scenario in the first inning.
“To get out of that with no damage was great,” Thorning said. “That kind of set the tone a little bit
Michigan’s Jackson Surma’s two-run double highlighted his team’s three-run first. His two-run single in the fifth gave his team a four-run lead.
Ohio answered with a run in the second after Chase Moak led off with a triple and scored on a single.
A bizarre play helped Van Belle work his way out of another bases-loaded jam, this time with no outs, in the third. After Van Belle struck out two hitters looking, Ohio’s baserunner on third headed for the dugout when he thought the inning had ended. But there were only two strikes on the hitter. Michigan catcher Cameron Thorning fired to third and the runner was tagged out.
Van Belle struck out the side in order in his fourth and final inning, when he reached the 85-pitch limit. He finished with eight strikeouts in the game and 18 in 10 innings pitched during the series.
Michigan used a 6-4-3 double play, from Lucas Farner to Van Belle to Max LaForest, to escape potential trouble and end the top of the fifth inning.
Ohio loaded the bases again, this time in the sixth inning, and the tying run at the plate more than once. A bases-loaded walk drawn by JJ Vogel cut its deficit to three.
Then came the final – out a popup to center field. Soon after, hats and gloves were in the air and Michigan became a champion.
“It was unbelievable,” Ulin said. “I can’t even explain how it felt. It’s been my dream to play here my whole life; watch it on TV my whole life. I thought maybe we’d get here, win a game or two, then go home, but turns out we won it.”
The game concluded the 11-day tournament, which began Aug. 19. Behind a two-run home run and a strong pitching performance from Cameron Thorning, Michigan defeated Hawaii – the only team it lost to – 2-1 Saturday to advance to the final. Ohio beat South Dakota to advance to the final.