SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Greenville North State looked like a team Sunday still reeling from the effects of letting the Little League World Series United States championship slip away the day prior.
The Southeast representative eventually got its motor running, but it came too late to overcome its rough start in what became a 14-8 defeat at the hands of Mexico in the tournament’s consolation game.
North State finished 4-2 in the tournament, but spent the event’s final day playing in the game that no one travels to Williamsport wanting to play in. The team led Texas 5-0 in the U.S. championship on Saturday and appeared headed for a slot in the World championship game, but Texas shocked the Greenville squad with six unanswered runs to win and relegate North State to Sunday’s 10 a.m. contest.
That defeat bled through in an early performance against Mexico that was plagued with erratic pitching and sluggish play.
“I think I left here yesterday saying these guys are going to be ready to play,” head coach Brian Fields said, “but I’ll tell you, that game yesterday — we so wanted to play in that championship game, and I think it was draining physically, emotionally, mentally, and I think that carried over to today.”
Mexico scored five runs in the top of the second inning, four of which came across the plate off of wild pitches or passed balls. Starter Matthew Matthijs struck out four, but only faced seven batters and gave up two runs before being pulled in favor of Cameron Greenway.
Matthijs dominated in his last outing against Texas in the U.S. semifinals, striking out 12, but his struggles early caused Fields and his staff to immediately begin scrambling to find pitching from players who had not thrown in a game in weeks.
Mexico got a pair of runs on a wild pitch and a passed ball off Greenway in the second, and built their lead to 5-0 by the end of the frame. North State got two of those runs back with a home run by Ashton Byars in the second and an RBI single by Thomas Barrett.
The Mexican team teed off on North State in the fourth, collecting seven of its 10 hits and exploding for eight runs to blow its lead to 14-2 and threaten to send the Greenville team home with a mercy rule loss.
North State put together one last gasp of life in the fourth, putting up six runs to pull back within striking distance on the backs of two-run doubles by Bryce Jackson and Luke Lambert, and a two-run home run by Carson Hardee.
“You know, we’re down 14-2 and these guys kept scrapping and scrapping, and put up a six-spot (in the fourth),” Fields said. “It was tough. It’s tough to get up the next morning and come out after a game like that yesterday, but they came out and they scrapped, and unfortunately we just didn’t score enough runs.”
Byars was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, the only North State player with more than one hit. Eight of his teammates had one hit apiece.
North State rolled into the consolation game faced with not only overcoming the brutal loss from Saturday, but also waking to prepare for a 10 a.m. first pitch.
“It was an early morning, and last night was just crazy,” Barrett said. “We were all just upset about losing, and having to come out and play your hardest, especially going down early like that, really took a lot out of us.”
Things looked bleak for North State trailing 5-0, but Byars injected some life back into the team and its fans with his solo homer in the bottom of the second. He sent the first pitch he saw over the center field fence.
“It was pretty cool because I promised my mom that I would hit it at some point in the tournament,” he said.
Cash Daniels-Moye made one of the highlights of the tournament with a diving catch in center field that ended the third inning. ESPN cameras caught the reaction of Barrett, who was pitching at the time and appeared stunned at his teammate’s play.
“I thought he had no chance of getting there, and he dove out for it and made the catch,” Barrett said. “That was a great play by him.”
Contact Jordan Anders at email@example.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.