Head just keeps batters guessing for Kentucky

Isaiah Head only could watch and dream as Bowling Green, Kentucky, competed at last year’s Little League World Series. Bowling Green was writing its league’s best chapter but Head could not experience it.

Bowling Green finished fourth in the U.S. last year, but instead of wondering what could have been, Head thought about what could be. And now he is a major reason Bowling Green is back at the Series as the Great Lakes Region champion and will finish higher than it did last year.

Providing dominant pitching, timely hitting and quality defense, Head has been one of the most valuable players. He earned the win Monday night as Bowling Green defeated Midwest champ Johnston, Iowa, 14-4 in seven innings, and earned a spot in last night’s winner’s bracket final against Mid-Atlantic titlist Endwell, New York.

“Isaiah has been outstanding this summer,” Bowling Green manager Rick Kelley said. “He become our No. 1 pitcher and is a major reason we’re back in Williamsport.”

Bowling Green returned three players from last year’s team and all entered last night’s game having big Series. Devin Obee, Spencer Newman and Carson Myers put together strong performances in Bowling Green’s first two wins. Still, take away Head and there is no way Bowling Green is here.

Head has become a deep staff’s ace and is one of the top pitchers at this year’s Series. Even on a night when he did not have his best stuff, Head still came up big and gave Bowling Green a chance to rally for Monday’s win, striking out three in 2 1/3 pressure-filled innings.

“He’s put this team on his back at times and we’ve been able to use him in strategic places,” Kelley said. “I’ve been real pleased with how he has performed and he’s been one of the bright spots on this team for sure.”

Head has made his most headlines pitching, but his hitting has been a key to Bowling Green’s success at the Series. He delivered an RBI single against Texas in Bowling Green’s opening win and then delivered one of the biggest hits against Iowa, slamming a leadoff, seventh-inning double. That ignited an 11-run rally as Bowling Green became the first Kentucky team to assure itself of at least a third-place finish since Louisville captured the 2002 world championship.

He might not have the experience the three returning Series players do, but Head is a quick study.

“The first inning (against Texas) I was a little nervous, but by the third and fourth innings I settled down and played baseball,” he said.

Head throws a baseball pretty well too.

Maturing on and off the field, Head has emerged as one of the country’s top Little League pitchers, dominating opponents at every level along on the road to South Williamsport. He has been untouchable at times and put on a pitching clinic at the Great Lakes Regional, going 2-0 and allowing only one earned run in 9 2/3 innings. He also struck out 20 and was one out from throwing a no-hitter against Michigan in the championship.

“Head was tough to beat last year when we played them and now he’s even bigger and throwing harder,” said Tennessee manager Joey Hale, who coached against Head when the teams met in an 11-year-old tournament last year. “He has an electric arm and a great breaking ball.”

Head throws in the mid- to upper-70s but there is much more to his game than pure power. Head mixes his pitches well and his off-speed stuff makes his fastball look even harder to hit. But what really gives Head an advantage is how many angles he attacks batters from.

The different slot deliveries Head uses make it that much harder to pick up the ball leaving his hand. He can go with a quarter angle, throw sidearm and also attack with a motion where he raises his arm and glove high above his head.

Head’s stuff is tough enough to hit, but never knowing how those pitchers are coming at one makes hitting him especially difficult. So many Bowling Green opponents can validate that.

“With the difference in velocity and the way he comes at you, it’s a total guessing game,” Bowling Green East Little League President Jay Lawless said. “Even if you guess right he can make them look silly. It’s hard to catch that kid.”

Head showed he is as tough as he is talented against Iowa. His electric stuff lost some voltage but he gutted through and gave Bowling Green a chance to rally in the fifth inning after it trailed, 3-2. Under the bright lights with no margin for error in the sixth, Head worked a 1-2-3 inning and then delivered the hit that ignited a huge rally.

Head comes from a baseball family. His father was an outstanding pitcher and Head is keeping the family tradition going strong. In terms of family baseball stories, Head might be writing the best chapter.

And he might just be getting started.

“He has a special arm and is a good baseball player,” Lawless said. “He could be somebody people are talking about. He’s a special kid.”