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North State falls short of US title

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North State pitcher Carson Hardee throws a pitch during Saturday's United States championship game against Lufkin, Texas at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, August 26, 2017

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Greenville North State had given up just one run in three games at the Little League World Series entering Saturday.

At the time when the team could afford it the least, the team from Lufkin, Texas, became the first to figure out how to score on it.

The tournament's Southwest champion scored six runs in the final three innings Saturday, erasing a five-run deficit and stunning North State 6-5 to deny the Southeast representative a berth in today's world championship game.

The Texas team advanced to play Japan in the title tilt at 3:30 p.m. today. North State, which had not lost in four games prior to the defeat, will play Mexico at 10 a.m. in the consolation game on ESPN.

North State appeared destined for a date in the final through three innings, holding a 5-0 lead with starting pitcher Carson Hardee mowing his way through the Texas lineup.

Then, suddenly, it didn't.

"I think they got a little uptight, maybe a little nervous out there," head coach Brian Fields said. "A game like that, you've got to do the little things, and we tried to be a little greedy at times, having some base running errors, and we threw that ball away at third, and when you're playing a good team like Texas, you can't do that."

Indeed, the play at third Fields referenced helped set the stage for the seismic shift that occured in the sixth.

Trailing 5-3, Texas second baseman Malcolm Deason sprinted from second for third following a wild pitch by reliever Chase Anderson. North State catcher Bryce Jackson collected it and tried to nab Deason at third, but his throw went wide and past the bag, allowing Deason to score and make it 5-4.

That run proved crucial in the sixth, when Texas' Mark Requina lofted a two-run home run over the wall in left center field, giving Lufkin its first lead of the game and sucking the life out of the North State side of Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

The Greenville team batted last with a chance to tie or win, but was retired in order.

"When we threw that ball away at third, there's a big difference between a two-run game and a one-run game," Fields said. "We knew who they had coming up the next inning, so yes, I think that was a huge play in that ball game. If we keep that ball in front of us and don't throw it, we get the next guy out and it's 5-3. I think that was probably one of the bigger plays in the game, momentum-wise."

Jackson and JoeJoe Byrne tied with a team-high two RBIs. Byrne was the only North State hitter with more than one hit, posting a 2-for-3 outing. Anderson had the team's other RBI.

Jackson's two RBIs came in the second, giving Hardee the lead as he hit his stride. He sat the side down in the first inning, then struck out three straight to end the second after putting two on.

Hardee finished the day with nine strikeouts, four hits and three runs allowed. He threw 89 pitches, 59 of which were strikes.

With a World Series title now out of reach, there is still a game to be played against Mexico. Though it isn't the game the team hoped to be playing on the tournament's final day, Fields said he thinks his team will have little problem being focused on closing out their season victorious.

"We'll try to push that some, having a chance to be third in the world," he said. "That still, to me, is mindboggling. We're going to go and eat and let them be boys for this evening, and I think feel like when they wake up (today), they'll forget about that and they'll be ready to play."

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

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