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Jinwon Na sparks 2 South Korea rallies in victory

Here’s a closer look at South Chungcheong, South Korea’s, 10-3 win over Maracaibo, Venezuela, in the opening round of the International field Friday.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Venezuela’s Brando Fernandez made one of the best catches you will ever see at the Little League World Series, charging from third base to make a diving catch on the warning track in front of the third-base dugout. Fernandez almost made the play even better when he got to his knees and threw to home plate as Minwook Park tried to score from third. Park was deemed safe despite no umpire being at the plate to make the call. A video review upheld the call.

“He’s definitely a good defensive player and he’s been good the whole tournament,” Venezuela manager Luis Gonzalez said. “He’s one of the best defensive players on the team.”

VENEZUELA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Luis Atencio did all he could at the plate to give Venezuela an opportunity to win when it hung around in the early innings. He reached base on a walk to lead off the second inning, then he broke up South Korea’s no-hitter with a ringing single through the left side of the infield in the third inning. That single was one of only two hits for the Latin America champs, and it also drove in Davirik Fuenmayor to tie the game at 3-3.

SOUTH KOREA PLAYER OF THE GAME: It would have been easy for Jinwon Na to hang his head after struggling on the mound to start the game. The left-hander allowed two runs — although no hits — in 1 1/3 innings pitched for the Asia-Pacific champs, and he struggled to find the strikezone, leading to his removal as a pitcher. But at the plate, Na was dynamite. He was 2 for 4 with a triple and a home run and he drove in five of South Korea’s 10 runs. He sparked two of South Korea’s three-run rallies with his two hits and helped it pull away from Venezuela for a convincing opening-round win.

BIG INNING: It started with the first pitch hitting the first batter of the inning. There was a pitching change in the middle, and it finished with Jinwon Na making a mad dash for the plate. South Korea threw a pair of crooked numbers on the Volunteer Stadium scoreboard Friday morning, but it’s three-run effort in the fourth inning was its most damaging. Leading 4-3, Gibeom Jung was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Hyeonjin Lim singled to right field to put a pair of runners on base and forced Venezuela to make a pitching change. Junseo Park’s sacrifice bunt put two runners in scoring poisition, and Na drove them both home with a ringing triple to the wall in left field. Na scored a batter later and Been Hyun struck out. When Venezuela catcher Hendrik Maestre threw to first to complete the out, Na dashed home, sliding under Maestre’s tag to score South Korea’s third run of the frame. South Korea finished the inning up 7-3 and cruised to the opening-round win.

BEST EFFORT: Gibeom Jung was credited with the pitching win for South Korea on Friday, and for good reason. He was the third of three pitchers used, but he was the one who truly shut the door on the Venezuela offense. He pitched the final 2 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three as he restored order on the mound for South Korea. Twenty-six of his 36 pitches went for strikes.

FLASHING LEATHER: It wasn’t so much flashing the leather as it was flashing his Howitzer of a right arm, but Venezuela’s Davirik Fuenmayor gathered a bloop single down the right-field line in the first inning and unleashed a frozen rope strike to third base to cut down South Korea’s Been Hyun trying to go first-to-third on Minwook Park’s base hit.

You don’t see many groundball double plays in Little League Baseball, but South Korea made sure there was at least one this series. Second baseman Junseo Park fielded Jonathan Rangel’s first-inning grounder and gave a perfect flip to shortstop Park, who unleashed a rocket to first to complete the 4-6-3 twin-killing.

Fernandez tried to one-up himself in the sixth inning when Wongyu Son scorched a rocket line drive to third base with two outs. But Fernandez jumped and reached over his head and snared the missile like it was no big deal. Nolan Arrenado would have been proud.

HOME RUNS: A man in an orange T-shirt made a heck of a two-handed catch of Na’s three-run, fifth-inning home run to right-center field. The South Korean outfielder saluted his teammates as he approached home plate after hitting the 240-foot blast which put the Asia-Pacific champs ahead, 10-3. It was the second home run hit in the International field in the first two days of the tournament.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “Every said that the teams from Seoul were strong and we are relatively weaker than Seoul, but we are proud to be here and honored to be here,” South Korea manager Minho Lee said. “Our goal back in Korea is to get to this stage and the Little League World Series. But having fun is our first goal and that’s what we want to do.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “I feel good to have hit a home run today,” South Korea’s Jinwon Na said. “I’m not really satisfied with how I pitched, so I’m going to do my best to improve on that.”

WHAT IT MEANS: South Korea moves into a quarterfinal game on Sunday against the Caribbean champion from Curacao. The two are scheduled to play at 9 a.m. at Volunteer Stadium. Venezuela falls into a consolation bracket game against Australia today at 1 p.m. at Volunteer Stadium with the loser eliminated from the tournament.

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