Georgia’s Kenty staves off elimination with complete-game effort

Maybe there once was a time when playing big-time elimination games against powerful opponents as millions watch worldwide would have rattled Peachtree City, Georgia, players.

But if that was ever the case, those days are long gone. This is a team that has played two epic Little League World Series games which went 11 and nine innings, respectively. This is a team which trailed by three runs Monday night and was down to its final out before fighting back for a one-run win.

And now Peachtree City is of the country’s three best Little League Baseball teams.

Jack Ryan hit a two-run single, Chase Fralick added a critical RBI grounder, and Jansen Kenty threw a gutsy complete-game four-hitter as Georgia edged Grosse-Pointe, Michigan, 4-3, in Wednesday’s losers’ bracket semifinal at Lamade Stadium. Georgia plays for a spot in the U.S. Championship tonight against the winner of the game between Hawaii and New York.

“There were no nerves in our dugout late in that game. Everyone was relaxed,” Georgia manager Patrick Gloriod said. “Every kid wants to get in there and hit every single at-bat. I didn’t see any nerves at all. They feel like they can win every game. It’s really cool to be around.”

Georgia held 2-0 and 4-2 leads, but Oliver Service and Jarren Purify home runs in the second and third innings made it, 4-3. Purify continued his dazzling Series in the sixth inning when he hit a one-out single and moved to second on a two-out passed ball.

Again, though, when so many might be nervous, Georgia players exuded confidence. Kenty reached his pitch-count limit during the next at-bat but made a bullpen call unnecessary, fighting back from a 3-1 count and recording the game-ending strikeout.

Georgia won its second consecutive one-run game and has won three in a row since losing to Hawaii, 1-0, in 11 innings Friday.

“I wasn’t thinking about it (the pitch count),” Kenty said. “I just worry about throwing strikes and trying to keep my pitch count low.”

Kenty going the distance was crucial, allowing Georgia to preserve pitching moving forward. Yesterday’s game originally was scheduled for Tuesday but was rained out. The extra day made Kenty eligible to pitch again after throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings against Hawaii.

He was not as dominant Wednesday, but Kenty was still mighty tough. Service slammed a two-run home run over the left-field bushes which tied the game, 2-2, in the second inning. After Georgia retook a 4-2 lead in the bottom of that inning, Purify put together a 10-pitch at-bat and crushed a long home run over the left-center field bushes, making it a one-run game.

A pitching adjustment, Jansen’s toughness and a strong defense that made no errors made that lead hold up.

“Jansen was struggling with his curveball a litle bit and that’s not typical of him,” Gloriod said. “He was leaving it up, so once we gave up the second home run we just decided to pump fastballs and see if they can hit it. He did a really good job of staying in the zone and living outside and being aggressive with it.”

Georgia quickly struck first, taking a 2-0, first-inning lead. Tai Peete was hit by a pitch, Kenty reached on an error and both moved up on a wild pitch. Ryan fell behind 0-1, but lasered a two-out, two-run single into left field, continuing his hot hitting.

“I knew there was an opportunity to score some runs,” Ryan said. “We needed to score and I saw the ball and hit it and shortstop was playing more up the middle so it went right through the gap and we scored two.”

Georgia answered Service’s home run, by scoring two more runs in the second and taking a 4-2 lead. Will Clem hit a leadoff, pinch-hit single and pinch-hitter James Hooper followed with a walk. Willis Maginnis then dropped a perfect bunt single and loaded the bases.

Peete was hit by a pitch as Georgia went up, 3-2. Michigan turned to reliever Reggie Sharp who did a fantastic job minimizing the damage. Fralick, however, put the ball in play and his grounder hit between first and the mound allowed Maginnis to score what became the winning run.

Sharp gave Michigan a chance to complete another comeback. The Great Lakes champions twice erased 4-0 deficits in their two Series wins and Sharp threw four innings of scoreless, three-hit baseball.

Michigan played some super defense behind Sharp. Service made an incredible, face-first, diving catch in the fifth inning. Shortstop Preston Barr saved a run with a good play up the middle in the third inning, and center fielder Ryan Knaebel’s running catch in the fifth kept it a one-run game.

But Georgia never flinched. Not even in the sixth inning when the tying run moved into scoring position.

“I’d rather him not have gotten on base, but I wasn’t too worried,” Gloriod said. “Another reason I wasn’t too worried was because, I told one of our coaches, if they score tie the game back up we’re going to come back and win it. I just feel like our team has an incredible will to win right now.”

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