SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- If Columbus Northern’s opener in the Little League World Series feels like a big game, it’s because it is.
The Georgia state and Southeastern Regional champions will face Hawaii, winner of the West, at 3 p.m. today in Lamade Stadium.
“We’ll tell our kids its just another Little League baseball game,” Northern manager Randy Morris said Friday.
Another Little League game with a few notable exceptions.
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’ While most of the World Series games are televised on ESPN, this one will be broadcast nationally on ABC.
’ Both teams -- Northern and Waipio little leagues -- come from leagues that have won World Series titles in the last five years.
’ Four of the last five teams that have won World Series titles have come from Georgia or Hawaii.
It almost has a championship game feel.
“If you didn’t know any better, you could think that,” Morris said.
And throw into the mix this is the first year of new format for the series. In past years, the four teams in each pool played a round-robin schedule to determine which two teams would advance to the United States semifinals. This year each pool is its own double-elimination tournament.
Put simply, the road to a title would be much easier by winning the opening game.
Morris plans to start his ace, Jacob Pate, against Hawaii.
“Jacob is going to get the ball,” Morris said late Friday after the team went through a two-hour hitting, fielding and pitching workout.
Pate’s response to his manger’s confidence could not have been more simple.
“I want to pitch and I want to go all the way,” Pate said.
The Little League pitch-count rules restrict a pitcher to 85 pitches. If a pitcher throws 20 or fewer pitches, he can come back the next game.
Pate, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound power pitcher, was the winning pitcher in the state tournament final against Toccoa and shut down a strong Florida team 9-2 in the region title game. He finished the regional with a 3-0 record and a 2.19 ERA. His fastball approaches 80 mph.
Northern has been unbeatable in all-star play, running up a 20-0 record. It is one of four teams out of the 16 here to bring a perfect mark to Williamsport.
Hawaii is 12-1 in tournament play. The only Hawaii loss came in the West Regional 2-1 to Ocean View Little League from Huntington Beach, Calif. Hawaii avenged that loss in the region final with a 4-1 win.
Most of the Northern players watched the Hawaii win over Ocean View Sunday night. Northern catcher Blake Hicks is impressed.
“We are playing a great team and we know what to expect,” Hicks said.
Hawaii has three strong pitchers -- Noah Shackles, Dane Kaneshiro and Shiloh Baniaga -- manager Brian Yoshii said.
“We’ll see how they feel,” said Yoshii, an Internet technology vice president for Kaiser Permanente. “We usually go with one and see how he feels. If not, we will bring in the next one, and if it is not his day, we will bring in the next one.”
Shackles, who had a 1.50 ERA in the regional, went the distance in the final, striking out six and allowing just four hits and one earned run.
It should be a good game between two storied leagues, Yoshii said.
“It is going to be a good game,” Yoshii said. “Randy Morris has done this before. For me, it is my first time. I expect them to be well-prepared and well-coached.”
Pate is ready to take his chances.
“They’re a good team, we’re a good team,” Pate said. “We’ll see what happens.”