By Curtis Driscoll and Luke Ramirez
For an inning, it looked like Texas Manager Bud Maddux would have to go swimming. The 68-year-old Maddux had promised after the United States Championship that if his Lufkin (Texas) Little League team won the Little League® Baseball World Series Championship, he would be the first one to jump in the swimming pool at the International Grove. And after the opening frame on Sunday afternoon, it looked like the 2017 United States Champions would make their manager stick to his promise.
Southwest Region catcher Chandler Spencer crushed a home run on the first pitch of the game, and infielder Hunter Ditsworth hit another to give Texas a 2-0 lead over Japan in the top of the first. Then, starting pitcher Chip Buchanan calmly took care of Japan in the bottom of the first. With the crowd howling and brimming with confidence that comes with an early lead, it looked like Lufkin Little League was on its way to a historic victory.
It wasn't to be however.
Japan’s starting pitcher Tomii was not overwhelmed by the moment. With the help of his teammates and some in-game adjustments on the mound, he righted himself and stifled Texas for the rest of the game. With Tomii taking care of Texas on the mound, Japan stormed back from the early deficit by scoring 12 unanswered runs.
Tomii admitted after the game that the second home run in the first inning made him a bit nervous about his pitching. However, he knew that the most important thing after giving up the home runs was to stay focused on the game and the next batters.
“After I gave up that second home run, I didn't think that I was pitching my normal form,” said Tomii. “I was able to make some adjustments after I gave up the second home run, and then I felt more confident.”
The changes worked. Tomii did not allow a hit for the next three innings and only gave up one more hit in the sixth inning. Spencer and Ditsworth struck out in their next at-bats and went hitless for the rest of the game. Texas had momentum in the first inning, but that changed when Japan scored two runs in the second off of a Keitaro Miyahara triple. A wild pitch brought Miyahara home and gave Japan the 3-2 lead. That would be all Japan would need as Tomii frustrated the Southwest offense and Japan scored nine total runs in the fourth and fifth.
Texas Manager Bud Maddox put the onus on the sudden momentum swing back on himself.
“Just like I told them, I will take full credit for that loss,” said Mr. Maddux. “Japan made adjustments that we should have made.”
Immediately after the loss, Mr. Maddux told his team to lift their chins and push their shoulders back. They had nothing to be ashamed of and should be proud of what they accomplished. The two and a half months spent together that began with two-a-day practices in the humid Texas heat had ended with a U.S. Championship and a great game against an amazing team.
“These young men, I’ve really gotten close to, and I hate to see it end,” said Mr. Maddux, holding back tears.
Mr. Maddux believes that the success experienced during the Little League® Baseball World Series final appearance will increase the number of players who come out to play and will end any doubt that a small East Texas town can do the impossible. Even after 41 years of coaching youth baseball, this Lufkin team will always have a special place in Maddux’s heart.
The U.S. Champs (3-2) return to Lufkin via Dallas due to the remnants of Hurricane Harvey which caused severe flooding in the Houston area, and throughout east Texas.
Tokyo-Kitasuna Little League finished the tournament 5-0. This marks the third World Series the league has won in the last six years (2012 and 2015) and fourth overall.