NC’s Matthijs had performance for the ages

Matt Matthijs felt his heart beating faster as Wednesday’s winners’ bracket final progressed.

Lufkin, Texas thought his pitches looked even faster.

On the world’s largest Little League stage, Matthijs stood tallest Wednesday. On a night when he could afford no error, the flame-throwing Greenville, North Carolina, pitcher was perfect. As the stars started shining in the night sky above, Matthijs became a star. And those who witnessed his dominance will not soon forget it.

Matthijs put together one of the most dominant pitching performances in Series history, throwing 4 1/3 perfect innings, striking out 12 and fanning the last 11 batters he faced as Greenville edged Texas, 2-1, in seven innings. Matthijs also delivered a critical seventh-inning single as North Carolina earned a spot in Saturday’s U.S. Championship.

“He’s that good,” Greenville manager Brian Fields said. “He was dominant.”

“It (his heart) was pumping. My heart was going 100 miles per hour,” Matthijs said. “I was thinking ‘just slow it down, breathe and just throw it.'”

Nobody has thrown it quiet like Matthijs at the Little League World Series. The 6-foot-1, 149-pounder has appeared in all three Greenville wins, throwing nine innings of no-hit ball and striking out 20. He combined with Chase Anderson and Carson Hardee on a perfect game in Friday’s win against South Dakota before combining with Anderson on a no-hitter against California.

Anderson allowed Greenville’s first hit at the Series in the third inning against Texas, but Matthijs allowed no more. He is a major reason this staff has surrendered just one hit in three Series games, a remarkable stat that no U.S team has come close to matching in the 2000s.

“It’s crazy. You feel like they’re not going to hit it, but you always have to be ready to play,” Hardee, a shortstop, said. “Eleven strikeouts in a row…I didn’t think he had 11 in a row, but he did. It’s interesting playing behind a guy like that when you think about how many balls were hit off him in that situation. You have to be ready all the time, but it’s definitely great to know that he’s most likely going to strike out the batters.”

Matthijs entered with the go-ahead runner on in the third inning of a 1-1 game Wednesday. He induced an inning-ending fielder’s choice, struck out the lead-off hitter to start the fourth and fielded a grounder for the second out. That was when the real show began.

Matthijs started mowing through Texas with precision, power, putting the ball wherever he wanted and constantly blowing them away. He struck out the last 11 batters he faced, fanning the side in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Against an undefeated team that hit five home runs in its first two Series wins, Matthijs went into overdrive.

This was an out-of-the-world performance. This was like a video game where the user turned all the advantages up high. It did not seem real.

Matthijs reached a level seldom reached by athletes and he did it when his team needed him most. He not only struck out 10 straight, but he put on a clinic in efficiency. Matthijs went right after Texas, dared them to hit it and watched them miss time after time after time. He threw 48 of his 63 pitches for strikes, went to a three-ball count just twice, never threw more than 17 pitches in an inning and kept himself eligible to pitch if Greenville reaches Sunday’s world championship.

“He’s got good stuff. He throws it good,” Texas manager Bud Maddux said. “It’s like Bum Phillips said, ‘if he’s not the best (we’ve seen) it doesn’t take long to call the roll.'”

Matthijs is not just a physical marvel. He throws in the mid-70s and features nasty off-speed pitches. There are others who have similar qualities but few possess the mechanics Matthijs does. He is as smooth as a Miles Davis song. Former Major Leaguer Aaron Boone raved about Matthijs’s mechanics during Wednesday’s broadcast.

Combine the power, the intelligence and the mechanics and Matthijs often has looked like a pitcher playing chess while the batters play checkers.

“His mechanics are just about perfect, both hitting and pitching,” said Aaron Givens, who coached Matthijs during the regular season when their team captured the championship. “I’ve coached a couple years of prep ball and high school and this is my sixth year of Little League and he’s definitely the best player I ever coached. He just dominates.”

That includes at the plate. Matthijs is hitting .333 at the Series and his seventh-inning single put Cash Daniels-Moye on third base Wednesday. Daniels-Moye scored the winning run a batter later on a slow Thomas Barrett roller. To understand how dangerous Matthijs is offensively, consider that his .333 Series average is nearly .500 points lower than what he hit during the regular season in Greenville.

Matthijs looked like Roy Hobbs back home this spring, hitting .807 with 17 home runs, 43 walks and a staggering 72 runs. And it is not like Matthijs was getting a lot of pitches to hit. When teams were not intentionally walk him, Matthjis, also a slick-fielding middle infielder who runs like a deer, was driving difficult pitches off the plate over the fence.

Like the mythical Hobbs, Matthijs seemingly could hit whatever he wanted during that run, when he went 46-for-57. But this is not just a talented kid riding an incredible wave. This is a 13-year-old with intense drive. This is a player whose work ethic might be the only thing more powerful than his arm or bat.

” He works hard at it and that’s why he’s so good. He doesn’t take a lot of breaks,” Givens said. “He’s always hitting or pitching. I’ve coached some kids that had almost the same kind of talent as Matthew and they sort of knew it and had attitudes and that held them back, but Matthew is a great kid and team player. If you want him to bunt won’t shake you off. When you have 9- and 10 year-olds seeing him work as hard as he does, that sets a great example.”

Matthijs is a teenager of few words, but he has become a tremendous team leader. His play provides Matthijs his bullhorn and those speak loud.

At the Southeast regional, Matthijs helped spark a rally when he hustled and beat out an infield single. That play perfectly illustrated who he is. So, too, did the way he entered in the first inning when Greenville trailed 3-0 and smothered a potent Georgia offense as Greenville rallied for the championship and a spot in South Williamsport.

It is here that Matthijs has become one of the most talked about players. The only one who does not seem impressed by everything he has accomplished is Matthijs himself. Matthijs is his toughest critic and is never satisfied.

Matthijs never settles. This is not his end point. He will keep moving forward, keep trying to improve. Look at where that attitude has Matthijs now.

Just think where it might lead him.

“He’s not just a great baseball player, he’s a great person,” Givens said. “He’s a special kid and this is not the last time people will hear about Matthew Matthijs.”