Teams from North Carolina, Texas square off for biggest American Little League prize

As they grew up, many aspiring baseball players thought the Little League World Series was something that existed only on television.

They watched the games and dreamed of some day playing at Lamade Stadium, but so many figured a dream is all it would remain. So imagine how the North Scott Little Leaguers from Greenville, North Carolina, and the Lufkin Little Leaguers from Texas are feeling feel right now.

The dream has become reality. After nine days at the Series these players are still living it. They have survived grueling district, section, state, regional and Series fields and have arrived where so many can only imagine. North Carolina and Texas play today for the country’s biggest Little League prize, meeting for the U.S. Championship at Lamade Stadium.

Fantasy Island has nothing on this.

“I don’t think it’s going to hit until we get back to Greenville and then it will be like, ‘wow, we were in that?”” North Carolina shortstop/pitcher Carson Hardee said. “Right now, it’s just crazy that we’re in it. It feels so different when you’re in it up here than when you’re watching it on TV. When you’re watching it on TV the game feels so far away. It feels like you have to win so many games just to get there and now we’re here. Not a lot of people get to do this so I understand how lucky this team is to be here.”

So does Texas.

“It’s a big opportunity,” Mark Requena said after pitching Texas into the U.S. Final. “There are so many other kids that would die to be here.”

This is a rematch fans were talking about as soon as Cash Daniels-Moye slid home with the winning run, giving North Carolina a thrilling 2-1, seven-inning victory against Texas in Wednes­day’s winner’s bracket final. Texas had no trouble bouncing back, blasting Connecticut, 14-4 in five innings, Thursday.

North Carolina enters Saturday’s final as the country’s only remaining undefeated Little League Baseball team and has established itself as the best Little League team in Greenville history. The Southeast champions outscored their first two opponents, 22-0 before Texas gave them their toughest game this summer.

North Carolina can make history today. No team from its state has ever reached the Series. The Southeast champions certainly appear capable of ending that streak and have used some of the best pitching in Series history to arrive at this moment.

Chase Anderson, Matthew Matthijs and Hardee have allowed just one hit in 18 innings. They combined on a perfect game against South Dakota before Anderson and Matthijs combined on a no-hitter against California.

That duo threw a one-hitter against Texas with Matthijs throwing 4 1/3 perfect innings, striking out 12 and fanning the last 11 batters he faced.

Matthijs cannot pitch today since he threw 63 pitches against Texas. That means Anderson and Hardee will be North Carolina’s go-to pitchers. Anderson beautifully mixes his pitches and threw eight straight perfect innings here before finally allowing a hit. Hardee is a hard thrower who closed out the South Dakota win and provides a different look.

“They throw strikes, they work the strike zone, they change speeds, they get ahead of hitters. That’s what you need to do in Little League,” North Carolina manager Brian Fields said. ” We tell these guys don’t change anything. Go out there and do what we do and the rest will take care of itself.”

Anderson has started all three Series games and likely will start again today. Ironically, Anderson’s Series dominance comes after he struggled in the South­east final, giving up three runs and not surviving the first inning.

Looking back, that experience might have been a blessing. Anderson learned from his mistakes, refocused and has made the most of his second chance. Opponents have paid the price.

“Basically, I left them high there (against Georgia),” Anderson said. “(At the Series) I focused on finishing my pitches. Coach talking to me before the (first) game and said if I finished out pitches and kept the ball low good things would happen.”

Good things have happened offensively as well. The North Carolina offense struggled a little at regionals and was contained by South Dakota in its Series opener. The Southeast champions, however, focused on improving the offense when they arrived at South Williamsport.

That work has paid off in a big way. North Carolina delivered 18 hits in an eye-opening 16-0 win over California and added seven more against Texas.

The team is hitting .398 collectively and is receiving production from all spots in the lineup and off the bench. Hardee has homered in consecutive games and Cameron Greenway and Barrett are hitting, .714 and .600, respectively.

“These guys have gone in hitting slumps but they continue to work, they continue to listen,” Fields said. “This is a hard game and there are great teams out there, but they’re seeing the fruits of their labors. They’re very talented but they’re sharpening and polishing things that I think high school and older boys are doing. The results are showing that.”

The same could be said for Texas.

The Southwest champions were undefeated this summer before losing Wednesday’s heartbreaker. Texas features a powerful offense that leads the U.S field with seven home runs. Collin Ross and Christian Mumphrey have combined for five home runs while Hunter Ditsworth launched a mammoth shot against Michigan as part of a back-to-back-to-back barrage. Ten Texas players combined for 13 hits in Thursday’s win.

Texas also is hitting over .300 as a team and defeated Lamar, Pearland and San Antonio, Texas five times during states and regionals.

Those three teams have combined to make eight Series appearances since 2003 so Texas entered the Series as maybe the world’s most battle-tested team.

“That’s a really good baseball team. You can watch all the games you want on TV but until you see it in person it’s not the same,” Michigan manager Jason Hill said. “They’re pretty imposing. Every swing they took, even the balls they missed, they were right on. I can’t say enough about them. I came away extremely impressed.”

Like North Carolina, Texas also features excellent pitching. Ditsworth struck out nine in five innings against North Carolina Wednesday but cannot throw for the remainder of the Series after reaching 85 pitches. That is little problem for Texas who has a co-ace in Ross.

The hard-throwing right-hander likely will start Saturday after throwing a four-hit complete-game against Connecticut last Sunday. Ross throws in the mid-70s, struck out eight and retired the last 14 batters he faced.

If Ross runs into trouble, Texas quality pitchers like Chip Buchanan and Malcolm Deason who have thrown well all summer.

“They are well-coached and extremely talented,” Connecticut manager Mike Randazzo said. “They do everything well. They put the ball in play, they hit for power and they obviously pitch well.”

Whoever captures to­day’s championship will be doing so for the first time.

North Carolina has never won a national crown and the Lufkin Little League did not even exist seven years ago.

Lufkin is trying to become the first Texas team to reach the world final since 2000.

These teams have separated themselves not just this year but for all-time when looking at their leagues.

What started as a dream has become quite a non-fiction story. And it is headed for quite an ending.

“I was happy to be here and we obviously wanted to win, but now that we’re playing in the U.S. Championship, it’s crazy to think that we’ve made it this far,” Hardee said. “It’s been great and it’s been a fun experience all summer. I thought it was a possibility, but just like coming here, I thought it was going to be hard to do and it was hard to do. Now that we’re here it’s crazy.”