SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — It wasn’t the way Columbus Northern scripted it, but nobody was willing to toss it back.
“A win is a win,” Northern pitcher Jacob Pate said after his team opened the Little League World Series with a hard-fought 6-2 come-from-behind victory Saturday over Hawaii.
It puts Northern in a good spot in Pool A play. The Georgia state champion will meet Ohio, an easy 16-6 winner over New Jersey, Monday night at 6 in a game that will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Northern manager Randy Morris said the approach was simple going into the opener.
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“We were going after the win at almost all costs,” Morris said.
A loss in the double-elimination format would have put Northern in a huge hole, requiring four consecutive wins just to reach the United States final. Now, Northern is two wins away from the U.S. final.
Part of the win-at-all-cost approach was to start Pate on the mound and stick with him.
It all set up a drama-packed first inning.
The ABC cameras had not been on long when Hawaii jumped all over the Northern starter. Seven pitches into the game, Ty DeSa hit a Pate pitch over the right-field fence for a 2-0 lead.
Hawaii loaded the bases with one out and it looked like it might get out of hand before Northern had a chance to bat. But the biggest play in the first inning — and possibly the game — may have come when catcher Blake Hicks chased down a pitch that had gotten past him and threw a strike to Pate to get Shiloh Baniaga out at home.
“Blake hustled and made a good throw to Jacob,” Morris said.
As he charged off the mound, Pate was confident he could get the runner.
“I was making sure I blocked the plate,” Pate said. “I knew the ball would bounce back and we could get him.”
That was the second out of the inning and shut the floodgates.
“That play could have changed the tone of everything,” Morris said.
Pate seemed to feed off it, striking out Keolu Ramos to limit the damage to a 2-0 deficit.
“It could have been way worse,” Pate said.
The worst part was Pate had thrown 40 pitches and was almost halfway to the 85-pitch limit.
When Northern came back to the first-base dugout, Morris challenged his team, which is a perfect 21-0 in all-star play.
“He told us to play harder,” left fielder Knox Carter said.
The good thing for Northern is it didn’t take long to answer Hawaii’s quick start.
Hicks and Pate worked walks to set up shortstop Brandon Pugh.
After passed balls and a stolen base moved Hicks and Pate into scoring position, Pugh knocked them in with a sharp single to right-center off Hawaii starter Noah Shackles.
“It was a curveball down the middle and I just threw my hands at it,” Pugh said.
Carter then delivered what turned out to be the game-winning blow when he hit an opposite-field home run to right to make it 4-2.
That is how it stood until Northern scored two runs without a hit in the fifth inning to take a 6-2 lead into the final inning.
Hawaii manager Brian Yoshii came away impressed with Northern.
“Solid,” he said. “What I really like about them is they are very poised.”
It looked like that poise may be shaken in the sixth inning, when normally sure-handed second baseman Jack Tanner threw the ball into center field trying to start a double play.
Morris was not concerned.
“For every bad play Jack Tanner makes, he makes 300 good ones,” Morris said. “I’ll take that.”
Troy Gilliland, brought on during the fourth inning to close it out, didn’t let the miscue rattle him.
“I just focused,” Gilliland said.
With runners at first and third and no outs, Matthew Campos struck out, Dane Kaneshiro hit into a fielder’s choice, and Justice Nakagawa struck out to end it.
Gilliland did what his manager asked after Pate ran out of pitches after just four innings.
“Troy threw a lot of strikes,” Morris said. “He’s a guy that comes at you.”
The come-from-behind win was nothing new for Northern. Morris’ team did it three times in the Southeastern Regional.
“I have kind of gotten used to that,” Morris said.
Waipahu, Hawaii 200 000—2 2 1
Northern 400 02x—6 3 1
Shackles and Ramos, Bartolome (2), Kaneshiro (5); Pate, Gilliland (5) and Hicks. W—Pate. L—Shackles. HRs—Hawaii, DeSa. Georgia, Carter.