Virginia’s Lee has been part of 2 no-hitters at Series
Justin Lee turned the Southeast Regional Tournament into quite a personal highlight reel.
Whether hitting or pitching, Lee was a force who hit five home runs, went 2-0 with a 0.58 ERA and helped South Riding, Virginia reach the Little League World Series for the first time.
Following that tournament Sean Lizama, who managed South Riding to last year’s Southeast final said Lee might just be getting started.
“Justin Lee played out of his mind at the regional tournament. He’s a really good kid and comes from a great family and it’s great to see,” Lizama said. “The nation about to find out who Justin Lee is.”
Lizama sure was right.
Lee has yet to display the power he did at regionals, but he has done just about everything else. Entering Wednesday’s winner’s bracket final against Hawaii, the talented 12-year old had been a part of two no-hitters, went 3 for 4 offensively, scored three runs and walked twice. He was part of a combined no-hitter in a 3-0 win against Rhode Island before throwing all four innings in Sunday’s 11-0 victory against Minnesota.
Virginia has displayed great balance during its entire summer-long run. Still, Lee has stood out and he has shown no signs of slowing down.
“I have no words. I guess sometimes you get lucky and this week has been very fortunate for me,” Lee said. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new people. Being here is great and being 2-0 here and being a part of two no-hitters feels amazing.”
“Justin has really come into his own in last few months,” Loudoun South American Little League President Joe Soricelli said. “He’s really zoned in and playing some really good baseball right now.”
Lee has been consistent all summer, but he has seemingly been at his best in Virginia’s biggest games. He hit a home run that provided the winning run in a dramatic seven-inning comeback state semifinal win against Cave Spring, delivered a dominant pitching performance against Loudoun South National in a fiercely-fought district game and shined in his first two Series games.
It was at the Southeast Regional, however, when American started learning just how good Lee is. The five-tool player came up huge in four straight nationally-televised games as South Riding became the first Virginia team to reach the Series since 1994.
Lee was a wrecking machine offensively, going 8 for 10 with five home runs and 10 RBIs. Lee hit safely in every game, three times hitting home runs and delivering multiple hits. He also slammed two home runs in the championship against defending Southeast champion Peachtree City, Georgia and earned the pitching win as well, stifling a high-powered offense.
“Justin had an amazing tournament. probably the likes of which I’ve never seen,” Virginia manager Alan Bowden said. “I’ve coached a lot of youth baseball and in so many tournaments in travel ball and in Little League and I don’t think I ever remember seeing a kid as dialed in as Justin Lee was in that tournament.”
Putting Lee’s power surge in perspective, the seven other U.S. Regional champions combined to hit 12 home runs during their respective tournaments. Lee hit five and had more than six of those regional champions combined.
The thing is, Lee is not just power. He did not homer in his first two Series games, but reached base in each of his first five at-bats. He has a keen eye, swinging at the pitches he likes, and started 3 for 3 with two walks. Lee is a weapon on the bases and scored three times in those first two games and was in the middle of game-changing rallies each time, hitting line drives and moving runners.
“His bat is as good as any kid I’ve ever seen swing it at end of the end of his Little League career,” Bowden said. “They went to these USA bats and you would think that the days of a kid hitting multiple home runs in a game or nearly half a dozen in a tournament are gone and this kid is just really seeing the ball big. He has a lot of power and a great baseball swing, but he really uses his lower half. When he connects on the barrel, at practice he has one-hopped a 300-foot fence.”
Lee is equally imposing when pitching. Although he throws in the lower 70-mile per hour range, Lee is a pitcher, not a thrower. He mixes his pitches and spots them well, using his mind as much as his arm to slow some of the country’s best offenses.
Lee totaled a 0.58 at Regionals and struck out 16 in 10 1/3 innings. He was even better in his first two Series games, throwing 8 2/3 no-hit innings and fanning eight.
Before the Minnesota game, Lee experienced some minor back tightness. He told Bowden he felt like he was at 95 percent. And Lee at 95 percent is better than most players at 100 percent could dream of being.
Minus two walks, Lee was perfect against a team that scored runs in bunches at the Midwest Regional. He struck out the last two batters he faced, kept Minnesota off-balance and lived a Little Leaguer’s dream.
“I said are you sure you’re fine because we have other kids who can throw. I need you to be healthy out there. He said I’m just a little tight but I’ll work through it and I’ll be fine,” Bowden said. “Justin is really working hard out there. I’m always very keen on asking him how he feels. He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there so sometimes I have to rein him in a little bit.”
And that makes Bowden one of the few people this summer who has slowed Lee down.