Lufkin, Texas, rallies to beat Greenville, NC, 6-5 at LLWS
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) Rounding second base with big strides, Mark Requena knew he had just given his teammates, and all of Texas, something to smile about.
Requena hit a two-run, go-ahead home run in the sixth inning and Lufkin, Texas, overcame a five-run deficit to beat Greenville, North Carolina, 6-5 on Saturday and earn a spot in the Little League World Series championship.
Greenville was previously undefeated in the tournament, having given up just one run and one hit in three games - both to Lufkin, in a 2-1 victory Wednesday - before things changed in a hurry in this one. Pinch hitter Clayton Wigley's two-run homer to center started the rally for Lufkin in the fourth inning.
Lufkin will face Japan, which cruised through the international bracket and shut out Mexico 5-0 earlier Saturday, in Sunday's championship.
Players and coaches said the comeback meant a little bit more knowing that Texas, including Lufkin, about 120 miles northeast of Houston, was being battered by Hurricane Harvey and needed some good news.
''Lufkin is our hometown and we love Lufkin, so we want everybody to be safe so we can come back and they can congratulate us,'' second baseman Malcolm Deason said.
Lufkin fell behind 5-0 to Greenville in the third when JoeJoe Byrne hit a two-RBI single, then scored on Chase Anderson's groundout to second.
The Southwest region champs started chipping away at the lead in the fourth inning with Wigley's home run.
''We talked earlier that we wasn't out of the ball game,'' Lufkin manager Bud Maddux said. ''We was going to win this ball game. I got confidence in these guys. We've been down before and fought back and they played their hearts out and we did it again.''
Deason made it a one-run game in the fifth when he hit an RBI single, then scored on a wild throw by the catcher, Bryce Jackson, who tried to catch Deason stealing third.
Despite the loss, Greenville manager Brian Fields said he was delighted with his team's performance, and that his players will give the consolation game against Mexico their all.
''I just told them how proud I was of them,'' Fields said. ''I just told them to hold their heads high. They have nothing to be ashamed of.''
THIS BUD CAN COACH: Maddux has been coaching youth baseball for 41 years and has led his teams to 10 championships at various levels. This year is his first appearance at the LLWS - and he has made the tournament final.
NOT-SO-MELLOW YELLOW: Japan's fans are known for nonstop cheering but Greenville's section, decked out in the team's yellow jerseys, were rowdy, too. As pitcher Carson Hardee kept a lid on Lufkin early in the game, Greenville fans made some noise chanting: ''Three up! Three down!'' and ''South! East!'' To their credit, they chanted ''South! East!'' again when their team left the field after the loss. After the game, Lukin fans tried out a new cheer: ''U-S-A! U-S-A!''
Jack Dougherty is a journalism student at Penn State. Penn State is partnering with The Associated Press to supplement coverage of the 2017 Little League World Series.