Matheson excels on big stage

Northwest Region champion Sammamish, Wash., pitcher Jack Matheson is not like most 13-year-olds.

He is one of few in the country pitching at the Little League World Series. But what really separates Matheson from the rest of the pack is his ability to excel on the world’s largest Little League stage.

Pitching in front of thousands at Lamade Stadium and millions more watching worldwide could be a nerve-wracking experience. But not for Matheson. He welcomes the pressure. He embraces it.

“It’s fun because I feel like it’s on my shoulders,” Matheson said. “It’s all in my hands now.”

That was a good thing for Washington Tuesday as Matheson threw 3 1/3 innings of brilliant relief and helped the Northwest champ edge Southeast titlist Nashville, Tenn., 6-5. Matheson’s performance helped Washington earn a spot in today’s loser’s bracket final against New England champ Westport, Conn. A win there would put Washington in Saturday’s U.S. final against West champ Chula Vista, Calif.

Matheson ended the game when he induced Tennessee’s top hitter into hitting into a game-ending groundout with the tying run on first. The right-hander stranded four runners over the final three innings, including two that he inherited in the third inning. He recorded a strikeout to leave the tying runner at third in the fifth.

“The table was set for a good moment for both teams,” Washington coach Matt Fitzgibbons said. “Jack is one of the best in the business.”

LITTLE BIG MAN: Connecticut pitcher Alex Reiner is not the most physically imposing pitcher and he does not wow opponents with his velocity. But the 5-foot-3-inch right-hander sure plays big.

Reiner threw 3 1/3 gutsy innings against California Wednesday. He took the loss in a 6-3, 9-inning thriller but only after stifling the country’s most feared lineup for more than two innings.

Reiner entered in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and one out, but retired both batters he faced. An inning later, he stranded a runner on third with one out and kept giving his team chances to win the game in the bottom half of the innings.

That is what Connecticut has come to expect from its quality reliever. Reiner earned the save in last Sunday’s 9-7 win over Washington. He left four runners on base over the last two innings after entering in the fifth and did not allow a run.

“Alex has a lot of guts,” Connecticut manager Tim Rogers said. “He has a lot of heart. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s been great.”

MAKE THEM COUNT: California’s Grant Holman has received a lot of attention for his pitching at the Series. Throwing the first extra-inning no-hitter since 1979 does that for a player. Holman, though, also is equally dangerous at the plate.

Although Holman has just two hits thus far, he has made them huge ones. The 6-foot-4-inch slugger has hit two home runs, including the game-winning three-run shot against Connecticut. He also hit a walk-off grand slam in a 15-3, 4-inning win over Delaware.

Holman has seven RBIs on just two swings. Both times he was 0 for 3 before hitting the home run. When his team has needed him most, though, Holman has delivered.

“I had a pretty slow start,” Holman said. “All I wanted to do was hit it hard and drive in one of those runs. I did my job.”

He has all summer.