SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.
When he selected this team, put pen to paper, imagined what combinations would best build a roster that was capable of making history, Ashton Cave thought pitching first.
Which meant the Mountain Ridge manager didn’t over-think the room.
The formula for baseball success never changes, be it at your favorite major league stadium or in the structure that houses the world’s best Little Leaguers each August.
Get people who can hit spots.
Mountain Ridge made history by becoming the first Nevada team to reach a Little League World Series and is thus far proving the class of the United States bracket and arguably the entire tournament, having now recorded consecutive mercy-rule victories at Lamade Stadium.
The team from Las Vegas charges on, impressively routing the Great Lakes champion from Chicago 13-2 in four innings on Sunday before 21,271 and a national ABC-TV audience.
Great Lakes hadn’t lost throughout its summer journey here. Hadn’t yet tasted defeat. Mountain Ridge hadn’t opposed a more athletic, powerful, dangerous team. Hadn’t yet faced this level of skill.
And it wasn’t close.
Mountain Ridge, representing the West Region, outclassed the Great Lakes at every turn.
Depth in pitching will keep you alive for some time and Mountain Ridge happens to have two young men (Austin Kryszczuk and Brennan Holligan) who would be front-line starters for any team here.
On Sunday, Holligan two-hit an opponent that had scored 12 runs and hit four home runs in its opening game. He shut down the team no one thought could be shut down. He silenced the bats everyone feared.
“Tip your cap to (Holligan), he was very good, and that’s a very good team,” Great Lakes manager Darold Butler said. “It’s going to take someone having a complete game to beat them. Our kids are real down right now, but they’re 12, so that means they’re either real up or real down. There is no in-between with 12-year olds.
“Believe it or not, I’m glad we played them now for the experience. I know my kids, and a (rematch) is what they will want. We will try and make it happen.”
It could, but that would mean the Great Lakes winning its way back out of the loser’s bracket. The voyage for Mountain Ridge isn’t nearly as difficult to earn a spot in the U.S. championship game.
Mountain Ridge next meets the Mid-Atlantic champion from Philadelphia on Wednesday at 4:30 PDT on ESPN, with the winner advancing to the U.S. title game on Saturday.
It sets up a matchup that will have ESPN executives drooling, the tournament’s most popular player in Mo’Ne Davis likely getting the nod to pitch against what has been the tournament’s most impressive offensive side in Mountain Ridge.
“I have watched (Davis), yes,” Cave said. “She is phenomenal, a great player, amazing.”
The momentum of Mountain Ridge is being celebrated across social media and throughout the Las Vegas Valley, a community suddenly caught up in the domination of these numbers:
Mountain Ridge has outscored two opponents 25-4 and out-hit them 25-6. It had five home runs Sunday, including two by Kryszczuk (who is expected to start opposite Davis on Wednesday) and a first-inning grand slam from Bradley Stone.
That makes six homers in nine innings here for Mountain Ridge.
The kids are mashing.
“It’s huge and I think we should have the city of Las Vegas behind us,” Kryszczuk said. “This is a big accomplishment and we’re not done. We’re going to keep our foot on the gas and keep going.”
It’s a train that gains momentum with each run scored. Politicians. Major league players. Celebrities. The tweets and texts from those with Las Vegas ties are pouring in, a town staunchly behind 14 talented players who appear very capable of remaining alive here until the end.
And they won’t hide from such a vision.
“Our kids need to embrace all of that (attention) and the entire experience,” Cave said. “They need to enjoy the moment and cherish these memories for the rest of their lives as the first Nevada team to do this. I know they’re grateful for the opportunity.
“They’re learning a lot of life lessons here beyond baseball and we want them to come back to Las Vegas and be better individuals and leaders in the community because of it. We will all remain grateful and humble moving forward here.”
This guy gets it, and his team is special.
It pitches. It hits. It defends.
“I don’t like predicting things, but I feel real good about how we will play the rest of the way,” Butler said. “I would like to play (Mountain Ridge) again.”
Many things would have to change for a different outcome.
The team that hadn’t lost all summer was overmatched from the opening pitch.
The kids from Mountain Ridge were better at everything.
On deck: Mo’Ne Davis.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.