Mountain Ridge wins, advances to U.S. championship game

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.

The buildup was about an individual player, a girl who burst onto the Little League World Series scene with all the talent and energy and charisma that a nation could fall in love with and ESPN could make into an overnight star.

The reality was about a team, about 14 boys who in the past week have proven to be the class of this tournament.

Mo’ne Davis was the hype.

Mountain Ridge was the truth.

“We are Team Incognito,” Mountain Ridge manager Ashton Cave said. “We stay low, stay out of the limelight, do our job, take care of business and win games.”

History keeps finding its way into this Mountain Ridge journey, as the first team from Nevada to make a Little League World Series will now play for the U.S. championship at 12:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday on ABC.

It is the result of an 8-1 victory on Wednesday night against Davis and the Mid-Atlantic champions from Philadelphia, when 34,128 at Lamade Stadium and a national-TV audience watched the team from Las Vegas win its third straight game in Williamsport and again prove to be superior in all phases.

Mountain Ridge will next face the winner of tonight’s game between the Mid-Atlantic team and the Great Lakes champions from Chicago, a team Las Vegas defeated 13-2 in four innings Sunday.

“Being in Saturday’s game and playing for a U.S. championship is unbelievable,” Mountain Ridge standout Austin Kryszczuk said. “I’ve watched the Little League World Series since I was 5, always seeing how the U.S. teams fight to get to that moment. To know myself and 13 other guys are going to be in that game … hopefully, we can get the victory against whoever we play.”

They hit Davis. They got to her early. They didn’t get caught up in the crowd or the bright lights or her sudden star power.

She departed after 2 1/3 innings when her pitch count (55) reached the point at which she had to be relieved or risk not being available to pitch Saturday should her team advance.

But mixed around a walk and six strikeouts, Davis allowed three runs and six hits, including a two-run homer by Dallan Cave, the No. 8 hitter in Mountain Ridge’s lineup.

“She’s good,” Mountain Ridge infielder Zach Hare said. “Her off-speed stuff got to us early. But we just swung the bats like we’re supposed to.”

Mountain Ridge showed something Wednesday. It ran the bases poorly enough early to keep an opponent in a game that probably should have been decided far earlier.

But nice defensive plays, such as a running, diving catch by right fielder Alex Barker in the first inning and a double play off a line drive to Hare in the fourth, stalled Mid-Atlantic rallies that could have quickly shifted momentum.

The team showed some serious skill with the glove.

Ashton Cave showed something, too. He chose to start Bradley Stone instead of ace Kryszczuk, and Stone responded with three innings of three-hit ball.

“It was surprising,” Stone said. “I thought we were starting Austin. But it was awesome. The nerves got to me a little bit in the first inning, but I was able to calm down after that and throw strikes.”

Maybe it was a calculated risk on Cave’s part, thinking his team’s bats were good enough to outscore any opponent. The risk paid off, as Kryszczuk pitched three innings of impressive relief (stranding five runners), making all Mountain Ridge pitchers available Saturday.

“Tip your hat to that team,” Mid-Atlantic manager Alex Rice said. “There is no question Mo’ne didn’t have her A-game, which she is entitled to. Take nothing away from the Vegas kids. That’s a real good team, maybe the best team we’ve faced this year. But she certainly wasn’t locating her pitches as she typically does.

“Las Vegas clearly has pitching depth, and they can really hit. I knew top-to-bottom they could hit, some more dangerous than others, but that’s a really good lineup.”

Two wins. That’s how close Mountain Ridge is to being crowned champions of the Little League World Series. No one has been better in Williamsport, as Cave’s team has outscored opponents 33-5.

And yet when it was time for Mountain Ridge to be introduced for its postgame news conference, a Little League official still didn’t know the last name of the manager. Cave laughed it off, taking the same approach as he has with those 14 kids who will play for a U.S. championship Saturday and perhaps a World Series title Sunday.

“It’s a lot of weight on a 12-year-old’s shoulders, all that goes on here,” Cave said. “Our guys have done a great job keeping it simple, and the coaches have kept it simple, and the families have kept it simple. You can see the end result of that.

“Everyone who gets here has a story, and the ones about (Davis and the team from Chicago) are great. They deserve all the attention they’re receiving. But we’re making our own mark, too.”

Yeah. By crushing all opponents in their path.

Mo’ne Davis was the hype.

Team Incognito was just a whole lot better.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com 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.

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