Talented players scattered in US field
Chip Buchanan perfectly read the baseball off the bat. He lunged toward the third-base line and stopped what looked like would be a sure go-ahead double.
The Lufkin, Texas third baseman was just getting started. Instead of saving a run, Buchanan ended the inning, making a no-hop throw across the field. First baseman Mark Requena was run into as he fielded the throw but held on as Lufkin preserved a tie.
Take away that sensational play by both infielders and Lufkin likely would not be playing at the Little League World Series. The same could be said for many teams participating in this year’s Series. These are players who make the extraordinary sometimes look routine and these are 10 American players to keep an eye on as the Series opens today. As a reminder, this is not a Top 10 list, just 10 players that put together excellent regional performances.
10 U.S. Players to Watch
(arranged in alphabetical order)
A fantastic shortstop, Cartnick generated more publicity at Bristol with his powerful swing at the Mid-Atlantic Regional. The slugging 12-year-old wore out opposing pitchers, crushing a U.S.-high four home runs and driving in a region-high 10 runs. Cartnick homered in three of the four games and his towering blast to dead center field set the tone in an 8-3 Mid-Atlantic championship win against Maryland. Cartnick hit .545 and four of his six hits left the field. He also scored a region-high nine runs and hit two home runs with six RBIs in a 10-6 win over Pennsylvania. Cartnick is just as impressive on the field. He made just one error in four games at regionals and helped turn two pretty double plays in the championship. Cartnick also provides pitching depth, throwing two hitless innings and striking out two.
Hunter Ditsworth, Texas
A five-tool player who helped Lufkin make history, Ditsworth put on quite a show at the Southwest Regional. Whether hitting, pitching or playing good defense, Ditsworth shined and helped Lufkin reach the Series for the first time. Ditsworth hit a team-high .571 in four games while tying for a regional-best seven home runs. He generates a lot of power with his quick swing and showed it at key times, homering in the regional final and slamming a home run nearly 300 feet against Colorado. Ditsworth hit safely in all four games, delivered at least one RBI in every game and drove in seven runs. Equally effective as a pitcher, Ditsworth was virtually untouchable in going 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA. A hard thrower with good mechanics and off-speed pitches, Ditsworth struck out a regional-high 22 batters in 10 2/3 innings. He throws in the lower to mid-70s and had 14 strikeouts against Colorado.
Andrew Hall, Washington
A versatile player who helps power his team’s offense, Hall played some of his best baseball at the perfect time as Washington captured the Northwest Regional championship. An ideal No. 2 hitter, Hall consistently set the table for the middle of the order and scored six runs while hitting .471. Hall compiled a .526 on-base percentage and hit safely in all five games. Hall was especially strong in elimination games and went 3 for 3 in the championship as Washington avenged its only regional defeat and edged Oregon, 4-3. Hall plays three different infield positions and made just one error in five regional games. He also is a quality pitcher who struck out six in 5 2/3 innings in San Bernardino.
One of many dangerous hitters in a potent Michigan lineup, Jones was sensational at the Great Lakes Regional, repeatedly coming up with clutch hits and pitching performances. A good outfielder who made no errors, Jones was a beast in the middle of Michigan’s order. Jones hit .600 and delivered a regional-high nine hits as Michigan won four straight elimination games. Jones had four multi-hit performances, belting a home run, two doubles and driving in six runs. Jones also scored three runs and went 2 for 3 in the championship win against Illinois. Jones also excelled on the mound, throwing a gem in an elimination win over Indiana. Jones threw five strong innings and struck out 11 as Michigan bounced back from its only loss and started its championship push.
There is little the hard-hitting, hard-throwing infielder/pitcher does not do. Matthijs has been a force all summer and might have been the most valuable player at the Southeast Regional. A slick-fielding infielder who made no errors, Matthijs hit .417 and delivered at least one hit in all four games. He was near impossible to retire during the regular season, hitting .807 with 17 home runs. He is every bit as impressive on the mound, too. Matthijs earned the win in the regional championship, striking out 10 in 5 2/3 innings of stellar relief. That clutch pitching helped North Carolina rally from a 3-0 first-inning deficit. Throwing in the mid-70s, Matthijs cooled a potent offense and finished regionals with a tournament-high 20 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings. He also had a 1.74 ERA and allowed just six hits while remaining undefeated this summer.
An offensive and defensive weapon, Osmond could do no wrong at regionals. Osmond nearly made it through the tournament without recording an out at the plate. The dangerous No. 5 hitter in a powerful lineup went 6 for 7, hitting a regional-best .857. Just as impressive, Osmond reached base in 12 of his 13 at-bats, including the first 12 times he batted. Hitting for both average and power, Osmond slammed two home runs, drove in five runs and scored four times. He homered in two of the team’s four regional games and helped his team score 43 runs. Osmond also is a terrific catcher who does a nice job handling the pitching staff and who effectively blocks balls in the dirt. Osmond also has a good arm and threw out the only runner who tried stealing against him at regionals.
His father played and coached in the Major League and Phillips is doing a fantastic job carrying on the family tradition. Phillips was the best player at the Midwest Regional, powering South Dakota with his arm and bat. Also a good basketball player, Phillips dominated both Minnesota and Missouri, going 2-0 with a 0.52 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. The tall right-hander overpowered Missouri in the final, throwing 5 1/3 innings of one-hit baseball and striking out. Phillips throws in the low to mid-70s and also packs an offensive wallop. Phillips hit .400 at regionals and compiled a .571 on-base percentage. He has hit 300-foot home runs during the postseason and had six RBIs along with three runs at regionals. Phillips also hit safely in all four games and sparked the game’s pivotal rally with a two-out RBI single against Missouri last Saturday.
Ethan Righter, Connecticut
The talented 12-year-old did everything right at the New England Regional. Righter has been the team’s ace throughout the summer and owned the big stage, going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA. Righter dominated finalist Maine twice, scattering six hits over 9 1/3 innings and striking out 18. He set the tone in Connecticut’s first game with five shutout innings and was nasty again in the final, throwing 4 1/3 strong innings. The hard-throwing right-hander, 8-0 this summer, has nice off-speed stuff and struck out nine in each win. Righter also provides a spark from the lead-off position and hit .636 at regionals. Righter hit safely in all three games and never struck out. He also delivered two doubles and scored four times. Righter is an excellent infielder as well and played three straight error-less games as Connecticut outscored its opponents, 27-4.
Drew Rutter, California
One of the best all-around players in this year’s field, Rutter shined in all facets as California navigated its way through a difficult West Regional. Rutter hit .636, going 7 for 11 and also slammed two home runs in an 11-7 championship win over Utah. The sweet-swinging left-hander hit safely in all four games and collected two hits in each of California’s last three victories. Rutter drove in a team-high nine runs and also scored six times, providing pop and run production from his No. 2 spot in the order. A talented and quick center fielder who also plays first base, Rutter made no errors and earned the save in the final, entering with a runner on and inducing a game-ending pop-out. Rutter stifled offenses throughout the regional, posting a 0.00 ERA and allowing two hits in 4 2/3 innings. The lefty also struck out six and helped California stay undefeated this summer.
Matthew Vivona, Connecticut
A year after being part of a team that reached the New England final, Vivona helped Connecticut win it. A good power hitter who also plays slick defense and pitches well, Vivona put together a sensational regional performance. The team’s No. 3 hitter, Vivona hit .636 and led Connecticut with two home runs, a triple, double and six RBIs. Vivona scored five times, homered twice against New England finalist Maine and went 3 for 4 with three RBIs in the championship. A defensive anchor at second or first base, Vivona helped turn a game-changing double play to end a first-inning jam in that final and made no errors in Bristol. He also threw three quality innings and struck out two. Vivona has helped his team win consecutive district and state championships and helped Fairfield reach the Series for a third time.