Tennessee, South Korea advance to championships

They were together at the start of the Little League World Series fortnight, Goodlettsville, Tennessee, players cheering on their border neighbors from Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the relocated Great Lakes Region final.

They were together at the end of Thursday night’s elimination round game at Lamade Stadium, the victorious Southeast Region champ Tennessee players posing amidst the Kentucky players they’d just defeated, 8-4, to reach Saturday’s United States championship game.

Bowling Green coach Rick Kelley said going in it would be a bittersweet feeling. Goodlettsville coach Joey Hale said beating Bowling Green to reach his second United States title game was bittersweet as well.

“You have elation when you win games, but you don’t feel it playing those guys,” Hale said. “I was in tears hugging those guys. I hated for them to lose. We cheered for them.”

While Kentucky’s run ended with two straight defeats, Asia-Pacific Region champion Seoul, South Korea, atoned for its loss Wednesday by beating San Nicolas, Mexico, 7-0, to reach the International final and earn a rematch with Latin America titlist Aguadulce, Panama.

Jaekyeong Kim, who homered for South Korea, said the win vindicated the team’s efforts.

“So far, we have been training early morning to late night,” Kim said through an interpreter. “I really want to win this thing. Get the trophies and the joy of the tournament.”

Today is an off day, with International and U.S. finals on Saturday, and the world title game set for Sunday.

For Tennessee, that means two other summer staples instead of baseball practice. Hale planned on a morning tee time at a local golf course. And at night?

“We were invited to the Williamsport High School game,” Hale said. “We might go and see how they play football up here, as opposed to the southeast.”