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Frazier never had doubt after opening loss at LLWS

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Curacao’s Curley Martha can’t tag out Louisiana’s Alton Shorts at second base during the championship game of the Little League World Series on Sunday afternoon at Lamade Stadium.

Scott Frazier had no contingency plan if his River Ridge, Louisiana, team lost its first game of the Little League World Series. That’s not how he thinks. It’s not how he wants his players to think.

So his only contingency plan heading into an opening-round game against presumed World Series favorite Hawaii was to win the game. The Southwest Region champs didn’t win. And all of a sudden Frazier’s plan had to change.

He huddled his coaches near the wall in right-center field at Howard J. Lamade Stadium and began to forge a plan for the rest of the Series. No team had won the Little League World Series after losing its first game since the tournament went to the modified double elimination format in 2011. No team had won a Little League World Series championship after losing its first game of the tournament since Maracaibo, Venezuela, won the 2000 championship.

But there Frazier and his coaching staff stood Sunday in the Mecca of youth sports posing for photos with the Little League World Series world championship banner. This was the plan all along for Frazier, his staff and the 13 members of his team, whether it required a contingency plan or not.

Louisiana defeated Willemstad, Curacao, 8-0, Sunday to become the first Little League World Series champions from the Southwest Region. It became the first Little League World Series champion from the state of Louisiana. And there was never a doubt in Frazier’s mind it was possible even after it lost that opening game to Hawaii.

“People from New Orleans and Louisiana are resilient people,” Frazier said with his entire team flanking him in the postgame press conference. “This exemplifies the resiliency we have in the area we come from. (The players) believed all along they would fight their way through. We come from a state where we are fighters. It’s how we’re bred.”

His team proved its resiliency over the last nine days. Forced to play six times during the course of those nine days to reach this point, Louisiana was never fazed by the task ahead of it. In the postgame meeting by the wall at Lamade Stadium during following that loss to Hawaii on Aug. 16, Frazier and his coaches devised a plan to get them to this point.

There’s a reason no team prior to Louisiana yesterday had lost its first game in this modified double elimination format and come back to win the world championship. It wears on a pitching staff and forces teams to go deep into its well of available pitching talent. Teams at this tournament love to tee off on pitchers who don’t have much experience.

Frazier’s plan was good enough to get Louisiana where it wanted to be. But more importantly, his players executed it and made he and his coaching staff look like geniuses. Egan Prather and Connor Perrot got Louisiana through a nail-biting 3-2 win over Oregon in its first elimination game last Saturday with neither pitcher throwing more than 56 pitches. A mercy-rule win over Minnesota helped ease some of the strain on the staff as Marshall Louque and William Andrade combined on a two-hit shutout with neither throwing more than 50 pitches last Monday.

Facing New Jersey’s J.R. Rosado, who Frazier called the best pitcher in the tournament, Prather gave Louisiana both depth and efficiency firing 5 1/3 shutout innings on just 66 pitches, in a 4-1 win Wednesday morning. Louque followed with a five-inning no-hitter in another mercy-rule win over Virginia on Thursday. And four pitchers combined for a heart-stopping 9-5 win in the United States championship on Saturday against that same Hawaii team which beat it just eight days prior.

And that set up Louisiana to run its ace to the mound in the final game of its summer-long baseball journey. The same efficiency which allowed Prather to carve up the New Jersey lineup so cleanly, helped him dominate Curacao yesterday. And with no more pitches left in his allotment, he induced a game-ending, World Series-winning line drive to shortstop Stan Wiltz.

And finally Frazier, his staff and his team could exhale. The last nine days have been a masterclass in how to handle the consolation bracket of the world’s toughest youth baseball tournament. But it was also a lesson in setting your team up to perform and letting them do it. The coaching staff let each and every player know exactly what their job was and then let them go out and execute that job.

“We came into that first game against Hawaii thinking we were going to win and then we adjusted,” Frazier said. “We had a plan and the plan stuck.”

It helped the offense afforded it the opportunity to cut off three innings of pitching which would have been enough to put a wrench into the plan. But the roll Louisiana got on starting with that first consolation win over Oregon became a runaway 18-wheeler down a mountain road. The momentum just never stopped.

It scored an average of 7.3 runs per game over its six consecutive elimination games. It allowed just 1.3 runs per game over the same stretch.

Louisiana didn’t become overwhelmed by the big picture of the grind which was ahead of them to come back from that opening loss. Instead, it embraced it. Playing baseball is exactly what they came to South Williamsport to do, so why not do it as much as they could? It played as many games as are possible in this modified double elimination format, winning the final six to become one of this tournament’s more improbable champions.

When West Region champions win, it’s not a surprise because California and Hawaii have combined for 10 of the Series’ 73 world titles. Japan has won 11 times and it’s no surprise when they’re making the lap around Lamade Stadium carrying the championship banner.

But Louisiana? It became the sixth state to have won one — and only one — Little League World Series championship. And of those other five, only the Louisville, Kentucky, team of 2002 has done it in a 16-team field.

“After we lost that first game, we told the boys that we’re here to play, so let’s go play,” Frazier said. “This is better than sitting around and not doing anything. And there’s no question the momentum we got through the losers’ bracket carried us through (Saturday’s) and (Sunday’s) game.”

The plan was always to win the Little League World Series for River Ridge, Louisiana. The path they’ve taken over the past 10 days may not have been the one it envisioned when the tournament began. But considering where the path led to Sunday in front of 30,000 USA-chanting fans, it was a path worth traveling.

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 570-326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.

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