By Luke Ramirez
Big hits off the bench are nothing new for Southwest Region third baseman and outfielder Clayton Wigley. His pinch hit, two-run home run against the Southeast Region in the 2017 Little League® Baseball World Series United States Championship Game ignited a rally that helped the Lufkin (Texas) Little League advance to the World Championship game, while writing another chapter to his “big hits” story.
It began in the regional championship game when Wigley came off the bench to hit the game-winning home run in the top of the sixth inning to sneak away with a 2-1 win and advance to the 71st Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Throw in another pinch-hit home run against the Great Lakes Region team in the opening game of the LLBWS that was the third of three consecutive home runs in one inning for the Southwest.
“It seems like every time we need something, we put him in there and he comes through,” Said Bud Maddux, Manager of the 2017 United States Champions.
Mr. Maddux needed him again in the U.S. Championship game with two outs in the top of the fourth inning down 5-0. Wigley struck a 2-2 fastball from Southeast starting pitcher Carson Hardee over the wall in right center. While it only put a dent in the Southeast lead at the time, it served as the spark the Southwest had been looking for.
“I was just trying to get a base hit and it ended up going over,” said Wigley.
Hardee had been cruising through the Southwest lineup to that point, only allowing two hits in the game that it looked like the Southeast had under control.
“I went over to one of the coaches and said, ‘[Hardee] is throwing right in Wigley’s wheel house,” said Mr. Maddux.
The home run settled down the Southwest’s starting pitcher Colin Ross who had already given up five earned runs on eight hits. After the Wigley home run, Ross was able to get through the next six Southeast hitters without allowing a run.
“After I got Wigley’s two runs, I knew that our team could come back and rally for more runs and I was able to start breathing again,” said Ross.
The change in momentum also prompted the Southwest offense to tack on two more runs in the top of the fourth and set up first baseman Mark Requena’s game-winning 2-run home run in the top of the sixth that gave Lufkin Little Leaguers their lead of the game.
“We have been down before and fought back by playing our hearts out,” said Mr. Maddux.
The late-inning heroics by Wigley and the rest of the Southwest team avenged the earlier LLBWS loss and advanced them to the World Championship game against the Japan Region on Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on ABC television. Whether or not Wigley is penciled into Southwest lineup come game time has little to do with his plan at the plate.
“I’m just always looking for an opportunity,” he said.
Wigley may speak softly, but certainly carries a big stick off of the bench for the Southwest and may have one more chance to make a difference for his team on Sunday in the World Championship game.