by JAMES S. KIM
It’s called Little League, but if the 2014 Little League World Series tournament showed us anything, it’s that there’s nothing small about the heart, hard work and sportsmanship these kids bring to the ballpark.
With his team down 8-1 in the top of the sixth and final inning of the World Series championship game on Sunday, Illinois pitcher Trey Hondras nailed South Korea’s Dong Wan Sin in the helmet with a pitch. As Sin made his way over to first base, Hondras went over to apologize to the player, and the two competitors shook hands.
South Korea would go on to win the game 8-4 and capture the 2014 Little League World Series championship—their first since going back-to-back in 1985, but it was moments like this one that stood out during the tournament.
A day earlier, South Korea knocked out Japan, the reigning World Series champions, in dominant fashion, 12-3. After Japan won their third-place game against Nevada before Korea and Illinois took the field, many of the Japanese players stayed to cheer on Korea, donning blue shirts with the South Korean flag on them. You probably won’t ever see that outside of Little League.
Sunday’s game wasn’t as much of a cakewalk for the South Koreans, but it was still more of the same: dominant pitching and a rock-steady offense. They led the game from the start, plating their first run on an RBI double by Jae Yeong Hwang in the first inning. After Korea scored another in the top of the third, Illinois finally got themselves on the board with a run in the bottom of the inning off of pitcher Jae Yeong Hwang.
In the top of the sixth, South Korea doubled their 4-1 advantage by scoring four runs, capped by Hae Chan Choi’s home run. They would need every single one of them, because as it goes in Little League, there is no such thing as too much offense–until the mercy rule takes over.
Illinois made things interesting in the final inning, knocking two straight base hits off of Choi, who had taken over pitching duties. With runners on second and third with one out, Darion Radcliff singled in both, and a hit and two passed balls allowed another to score.
Choi struck out Brandon Green, and after walking the next batter, he finally got clean-up hitter Ed Howard to ground into a force out to secure the win and championship.
After the celebrations were said and done, the players from both teams lined up to shake hands. And to start off the line was an awkward, yet probably one of the more heartwarming handshakes you will ever see.
Bat flips, home runs and all that stuff aside, that’s pretty cool.
Images via ESPN