Long layoff after regionals leaves Australia rusty at World Series

It wasn’t a long time off for the Mid-Atlantic regional champions from Staten Island, New York, or for Coventry, Rhode Island, which won the New England regional tournament. After both earned victories on Sunday afternoon in their respective regionals, they found themselves with less than a week off before they had to play at the Little League World Series.

That’s the case for all the United States’ regional tournaments and Canada, which wrapped up last Saturday.

The players get a few days rest before making the trip to South Williamsport to begin play.

Districts, sectionals, states, regionals. There’s not much of a down time between tournaments. Well, for most teams that’s how it is. Australia is an exception.

On June 11, the Gold Coast Cougars won easily in the Australian Region championship game by shutting out the Adelaide Seahawks, 11-0. It capped a 6-1 run in the regional tournament for Gold Coast and gave them their regional title and a berth into the Little League World Series.

While most teams make some plans for a trip to the Series shortly thereafter, Australia had 65 days to wait until playing its first game at Volunteer Stadium.

It’s what happens every year as Australia is the first of 16 regions to declare a champion. Each year a huge obstacle the Australian champion faces is keeping the kids focused, knowing they have two months before they will get to play in another meaningful game.

Teams can practice often, but it doesn’t give players the feel and action that a real game would. That’s why Australia manager Brent Iddon knows they need to get in scrimmage games between the regional and World Series.

“It’s very difficult. It’s obviously winter in Australia. Most kids play multiple sports,” Iddon said after losing to Puerto Rico in an eliminaton game on Saturday, 6-0. “So our biggest hurdle is getting scrimmage games and people to play.”

In the winter, most of the kids play soccer, rugby or even Australian football. Having them play multiple sports can cut into practice time or exhibition games.

Iddon does his best with his other coaches in recruiting older players for their team to play against. Using older players gives the Australians a feel for what they’ll face at Volunteer Stadium in August.

“What we were doing is getting older kids, 14-year-olds, even some 16-year-olds, playing against them at Little League distance to really compete,” Iddon said. “That’s the hardest thing with our schedule.”

Having such a long layoff can lead to some rust when Australia arrives at the World Series. Since getting its own region in 2013, Australia is 5-13 and only once (in 2016) has it won two games.

That long layoff hurts the team’s pitching because it doesn’t have many games to throw.

“Jett (Grimmond) played 40, 50 games in his life,” Iddon said of his relief pitcher who has played for only two years and is primarily a rugby player. “So imagine if he was able to (play more games like other regions). The outcomes and results would be good.”