Lufkin rallies to claim U.S. championship
By BRANDON OGDEN
Aug. 26, 2017 at 10:48 p.m.
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Lufkin has shown all summer that it has the mark of a champion.
Thanks to Mark Requena's two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning, Lufkin is the Little League World Series United States champion with a 6-5 victory over Greenville, North Carolina, on Saturday afternoon at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
The win moves Lufkin into the World Championship game against Japan at 2 p.m. today.
Lufkin trailed 5-0 after the third inning and continued to chip away. The "Thundering 13" scored two runs in the fourth inning on a pinch-hit home run by Clayton Wigley and two more runs in the fifth inning.
"We had talked earlier that we weren't out of the ball game, that we was going to win this ball game," Lufkin manager Bud Maddux said. "I've got confidence in these guys. They've fought back and played their hearts out, and we did it again."
Down to its final opportunity, Lufkin knew it had to act quickly to complete the comeback. On a 3-2 count, Collin Ross was hit in the head for the second time in the game to bring up the red-hot Requena.
On Wednesday, Requena had Lufkin's lone hit in a 2-1 loss to North Carolina in seven innings. That was also the only hit North Carolina had allowed in three World Series games.
A second-inning single and a two-out base knock in the fourth inning gave Requena the only three hits against North Carolina pitching.
Requena's teammates eventually joined him in the hit column before he had one more chance to add to his hit total.
The first two pitches to Requena were called strikes, and then he took two balls. On the fifth pitch from Chase Anderson, Requena sent the ball over the left-field fence to give Lufkin a 6-5 lead.
"The umpire, he had called two strikes that I don't think, in my opinion, was a strike," Requena said. "But I couldn't do nothing about it, so I just hit the ball and did what I've got to do for the team."
"Oh man, it's just amazing," said Oscar Requena, Mark's father, following the game. "First, you're sitting there, and then you're standing up, feeling nervous, watching the count. And just as soon as he made contact, it was just how far it would go. It was an amazing feeling."
Four of Requena's five hits in the Little League World Series have come against North Carolina after his 3-for-3 performance on Saturday.
"He did a great job hitting," North Carolina manager Brian Fields said. "We tried to come in on him, and he did a great job hitting the ball to left field. He's probably one of the best hitters we've faced. Their 3-4-5 is probably the best three hitters we've faced in a while. Other than him, we did a great job with (Hunter) Ditsworth and Ross, but they had two guys come off the bench with huge hits, one a home run and the other one with a single, so you've got to give them credit."
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Anderson grounded out to Requena for the first out. Chip Buchanan then struck out Bryce Jackson swinging. Cash Daniels-Moye, who scored the winning run in Wednesday's contest, grounded out to Blake Slaga to send Lufkin into the World Series finale.
Ross started on the mound for Lufkin, and after a scoreless first inning, North Carolina scored two runs in the bottom of the second inning with a two-run single by Jackson.
That came after Requena and Ross were on second and third with no outs in the top of the second, but Carson Hardee struck out three straight batters to escape the jam.
North Carolina added to its lead in the third inning. JoeJoe Byrne had a two-run single to make the score 4-0, and Anderson had an RBI groundout to bring in Byrne for the fifth run.
Wigley's home run helped Lufkin cut the score to 5-2 in the fourth after Requena's second single. It was the third home run for Wigley in the team's past six games. Wigley hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the sixth inning to give Lufkin a 2-1 win over San Antonio in the Southwest Regional. He also hit the third of back-to-back-to-back home runs in the team's first World Series game against Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
"It's been great," Maddux said. "It seems like every time we've needed something, we've put him up there, and he has come through. I was talking earlier to one of the coaches, and I said, this guy is throwing right in Wigley's wheelhouse. He comes up, and sure enough, he hit it out. It was good."
"I'm just always looking for an opportunity to make something happen," Wigley said.
A single by Malcolm Deason scored Slaga for the third run. Slaga was running for Charlie Deaton, who delivered a pinch hit single.
Deason advanced to second on a wild pitch. He then advanced to third on a wild pitch and came in to score when the throw by the catcher Jackson went into left field.
With his team down 5-4, Ross struck out the final two batters he faced before having to leave the mound after throwing 87 pitches.
Ross allowed four earned runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and no walks in 4 2/3 innings.
"Well, I knew from the beginning that if I had run insurance that I would pitch better because I would be more relaxed," Ross said. And through the whole first three innings, I didn't have any runs, and that made me more anxious. After I got Wigley's two runs, I knew that our team could rally back and get some more, so I just calmed down and started breathing again."
Buchanan came in and pitched the final 1 1/3 innings, allowing no runs on no hits with two strikeouts and no walks to pick up the win.
"Chip has done everything that we've asked him to do all summer," Maddux said. "Every time we've needed him, he's came in and did a good job. The other night, Chip did a good job on the mound. We just had a couple of little things that went wrong and lost a ball game. It was a great ball game by both teams. I feel very confident with Chip out on the mound, and so do these guys."
Maddux said Buchanan will start today's World Championship game against Japan — a 5-0 winner over Mexico on Saturday.
Buchanan said before the team went to the Southwest Regional in Waco that he hoped to play Japan. And assistant coach Ryan Deaton ended his speech at the team's World Series sendoff rally in Lufkin by saying, "And we can't wait to get up there and get a hold of Japan."
"It's really unreal that you would say something like that and it happens, Maddux said.