Two homers keep Tennessee alive
A closer look at the 14-3, five-inning win by Southeast Region champion Goodlettsville, Tennessee, over Midwest Region champ Johnston, Iowa, on Wednesday at Lamade Stadium:
PLAY OF THE GAME: R.J. Moore’s three-run home run. Showcasing Tennessee’s depth, Moore delivered the hit of his life in the fourth inning, slamming a long, go-ahead, homer that erased a two-run deficit and put Tennessee ahead to stay, 4-3. Moore was pinch-hitting and fell behind 1-2 before sending a no-doubt shot well over the right-center field wall and onto the Lamade Stadium hill. It also sparked a six-run Tennessee eruption. Moore sprinted around the bases showing what pure joy looks like.
TENNESSEE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Robert Carroll. Goodlettsville Little League sure is glad Carroll decided to sign up this year. He had played travel ball his whole life but signed up this season and Tennessee might not be here without him. With its pitching rotation thinned by playing for a third straight day, Tennessee desperately needed a strong Carroll performance. The right-hander delivered too, coming up big like he did last Thursday when he hit a walk-off, two-run double against Oregon. Carroll threw 4 1/3 strong innings, scattering three hits while striking out six. In addition to pitching well, Carroll also was strong offensively, going 2 for 3 with two RBIs and two runs.
“Robert was phenomenal,” Tennessee manager Joey Hale said. “We call him the quiet assassin because he doesn’t say much, but he spoke loudly on the mound. He’s been money this whole time. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
IOWA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Kaiden Dinh. The gutty catcher played with a shoulder injury throughout the Series, but played so well. He hit three -run home run Wednesday that gave Iowa a 3-1 lead and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. In his last two Series games, Dinh went 3 for 4 with two home runs and five RBIs.
“He’s locked in offensively,” Iowa manager Duane Pineda said. “He played a fantastic game.”
HOME RUNS: Ethan Jackson gave the Tennessee offense and early jolt, slamming a leadoff home run well past the right-center field wall and onto the hill. It was his third home run in five games going back to the Southeast regional and put Tennessee up, 1-0. Dinh delivered yet again the clutch, slamming a three-run home run, third-inning home run over the left-field fence and putting Iowa up, 3-1. Dinh hit a game-tying home run and a walk-off single Tuesday against Rhode Island. Moore helped Tennessee immediately respond in the top of the fourth, hitting his go-ahead, three-run home run that made it 4-3.
FLASHING LEATHER: Tennessee pitcher Carroll made a nice first-inning play off the mound and threw out the speedy Miles Risley. Carroll fielded the ball halfway between the mound and the third-base line and his throw beat Risley by a step. Iowa first baseman JT Garcia made a brilliant play on a third-inning Zach McWilliams one-hopper. McWilliams ripped a wicked bouncer down the first-base line, but Garcia made a pretty stop and beat McWilliams to the bag. McWilliams turned the tables an inning later snaring a hard-hit Garcia line drive and robbing him of a hit.
BIG INNING: Tennessee fourth. The Southeast champ often plays its best baseball when trailing or tied and delivered again under pressure in the fourth inning. Right after Iowa had scored three runs and taken a two-run lead, Tennessee responded by scoring six times while taking a 7-3 lead. Goodlettsville sent 10 batters to the plate, collected four hits and won its third Series game when tied or trailing in the second half of a game. Tennessee scored seven more runs an inning later to put the game away.
WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “We’re exhausted,” Hale said after his team played its third game in three days. “We’re just on adrenaline right now.”
WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “Everyone getting a hit really fires us up,” Jackson said. “It gives us a lot of confidence.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Tennessee will finish no worse than third in the U.S. and will play for a spot in the national championship tonight against Kentucky. Iowa finishes fourth in the U.S., the best-ever finish for a Midwest team since the region was established in 2001. Iowa also was the first Midwest team to win two Series games.