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North State, Texas to tangle for US title

LLWS Texas North Carolina Baseball
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Greenville, N.C.'s Thomas Barrett drives in the winning run from third during the seventh inning against Lufkin, Texas, at the Little League World Series baseball tournament in South Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. North Carolina won 2-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

LLWS Texas North Carolina Baseball-2
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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 26, 2017

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA. — The opponent standing between Greenville North State and the United States Championship at the Little League World Series is the exact same one it had to beat to reach the title game.

The penultimate day of the tournament features Southeast vs. Southwest, Round 2, as North State and the team from Lufkin, Texas, square off at 3:30 p.m. for the U.S. title and a spot in the overall championship game Sunday afternoon.

The bout is a rematch of Wednesday night’s winners bracket game, which saw the Greenville team walk off with a 2-1 victory in seven innings. Pitcher Matthew Matthijs struck out 12 Texas batters, including the final 11 he faced, in what was perhaps the most dramatic game of the tournament thus far.

Matthijs is ineligible to pitch today because of pitch count rules, but is available Sunday when North State hopes to be playing in the championship game against the winner of today’s second game, the International title tilt between Japan and Mexico.

North State’s players were off the last two days, getting an extra day of rest as Texas topped Connecticut 12-4 Thursday night to advance to today’s game through the loser’s bracket. After the team’s final batting practice Friday morning, the consensus among its players and coaches was that having already played once this week would have little to no effect on the approach to today’s game.

“It doesn’t really change it,” said Carson Hardee, who hit a solo home run against Texas on Wednesday. “The only thing it changes is you know who they have, how good they are, how they pitch and how good they hit. We just need to play our game and see what happens.

“It’s not an advantage, but not a disadvantage. It’s kind of the same for both teams, so it evens itself out.”

The combination of Hardee and Chase Anderson is likely to carry North State on the mound today. Head coach Brian Fields said Friday morning he was considering starting Hardee given the fact Anderson threw three innings against Texas the first go-round, but that he had not made that decision definitively.

Regardless of the starter, he said he expected a battle similar to the one the teams staged in their first meeting.

“You’ve got two very good teams,” Fields said. “You’ve got two teams with good pitching and two with very good offenses. That game the other night was probably one of the best Little League games I’ve witnessed. These guys, we’ve kind of taken it easy the last couple of days, but at this point, they know what they know. They’re prepared physically. Now it’s just the mental part, getting them confident and knowing they’re the best team here.

“Games like this, you’ve got to have a little bit of luck, and you’ve got to take some gambles and hope those things pay off for you. We’re going to roll it out there and I promise you we’re going to give it all we have.”

North State held Texas to just one hit in Wednesday’s win while amassing seven of its own. In its three wins in Williamsport, the team from Lufkin has scored an average of 8.3 runs per game.

With today’s contest serving as the final hurdle between the Greenville team and a berth in the World Series’ ultimate game, the possibility exists that North State could pull out stops it has yet to show.

“They haven’t seen everything we have,” first baseman Thomas Barrett said.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

 

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