WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — A true double-elimination tournament goes like this: Whichever team advances to the championship game out of the winners’ bracket can then lose once to force a deciding matchup.
It’s called the “IF” game.
It’s not how the Little League World Series works.
Mountain Ridge hasn’t lost in three games and will meet the one-loss Great Lakes champion from Chicago in the U.S. championship game at 12:30 p.m. PDT today on ABC-TV.
The winner advances to the World Series final Sunday against the winner of today’s international final between South Korea and Japan; the loser plays in the third-place game Sunday.
There is no “IF” game for Mountain Ridge within the U.S. bracket or for unbeaten Korea on the international side should either lose today.
There are no do-overs.
Television rules the universe — ESPN will pay $60 million in the next eight years to continue broadcasting the Little League World Series — and that means those participating must adhere to the desired schedule of the network.
Television wants to broadcast only two games on the final Saturday of the tournament, so that’s how it falls.
The good part for Mountain Ridge: By going 3-0, it has played two fewer games and got more rest than the Great Lakes, allowing Mountain Ridge to set up its pitching rotation so that all arms are available today.
The bad part: Unlike the other seven U.S. teams that advanced to Williamsport, it’s not allowed to have a bad game now.
Great Lakes lost to Mountain Ridge 13-2 on Sunday, but has since won three games and taxed its pitching staff to reach the U.S. final.
“We knew how the bracket went when we started,” Mountain Ridge manager Ashton Cave said. “It’s just the way it is. We’ve treated the tournament so far like pool-play games, and now we are in single elimination.
“To worry about (the format) makes no sense. It’s just a waste of time. We have been in this situation before and recognize the significance of a single-elimination game, and we’re going to go out there and play to win. ”
■ REMATCH IS SET — Mountain Ridge practiced for the final time as an All-Star team Friday, and players afterward spoke about meeting the Great Lakes for a second time, with today’s game having far more at stake than the one Sunday.
“None of us are going to be thinking about 13-2,” leadoff hitter Zach Hare said. “They’re going to play a lot better than they did the first game. I’m sure they have a little fire under them from the first time we played. They’re going to be ready. We’ll have to come out and play our best baseball.
“We have to pitch well and know where to throw it. Great throws and cuts are critical. They’re super fast and will take any opportunity on the bases they can.”
Said catcher Josiah Cromwick: “We can’t think at all about that first game. This is a whole new game. They’re great. They hit the ball, they field it, they’ll run all day on you if you let them.”
■ FEAR THE GORILLA — You may have noticed on TV a large stuffed gorilla in the Mountain Ridge dugout throughout the World Series.
There is a story behind it.
Nick Cornman, who played for the Mountain Ridge All-Stars last year, received the gorilla as a present from a family member, who brought it all the way from Korea.
Cornman passed it down to this year’s team.
“It’s like our rally monkey that brings us good luck,” said Mountain Ridge player Drew Laspaluto, who along with teammate Andrew Matulich has been in charge of making sure the gorilla attends all games. “It has been with us every tournament — district, state, regionals and here.”
Should Las Vegas and South Korea win today, the two would meet for the LLWS title Sunday.
It’s anyone’s guess as to which side the gorilla would then support.
■ MOUNTAIN RIDGE RETURNS HOME — For those interested in meeting the Mountain Ridge team at the airport upon its return to Las Vegas, it is scheduled to arrive home at 8:30 p.m. Monday via U.S. Air flight 676 from Philadelphia.
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.