Krauss' walk-off sends Red Land into Little League World Series championship game
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT — When the summer began, Red Land manager Tom Peifer never could've imagined that his team would even make it to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.
The initial goal was to win the state tournament, but once that happened, the team figured "why not us?"
Now, on Sunday, the last day of this long journey that's spanned the entire summer, Red Land will have a chance to be crowned the best little league team in the world. Chayton Krauss played hero on Saturday, lining a single into right field, scoring Braden Kolmansberger from third, giving Red Land the 3-2 walk-off victory in front of a Little League World Series single-game record crowd of 45,716 fans at Lamade Stadium. It'll now take on the international champions, Japan, on Sunday at 3 p.m. Red Land also improved to 20-0 on the summer.
"It felt awesome," Krauss said about his walk-off hit. "It was amazing to get that hit and it felt great."
After going through the entire summer blowing out teams, never playing in a game decided by fewer than seven runs, Red Land finally ran into stiff competition once it got to Williamsport. It had to come from behind to beat South Carolina in walk-off fashion last Sunday and then only managed three runs against Texas on Wednesday. So, when the team trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, the team at least had those experiences, especially the South Carolina game, to fall back on to get it through Saturday's contest.
"It certainly helped us to know, on this stage, in front of a lot of people, that we could (come back)," Peifer said. "I think Dylan Rodenhaber got them in that last inning, the bottom of the sixth, and said 'We can do this.' And that kind of got everybody wound up, as well as the crowd did."
Fast start: Cole Wagner got the offense started for Red Land in the bottom of the first, hitting an opposite-field home run off of Texas pitcher Ryan Farmer to give Red Land the early 1-0 lead. The home run was his 25th of the summer &mdash in only 20 games.
But Texas answered right back. A leadoff single by Zack Mack in the top of the second and then a double by Tristan Schwehr put runners at second and third with nobody out. Then, after catcher Kaden Peifer tried to throw out Schwehr stealing second, Wagner cut off the throw, but dropped it, allowing pinch-runner Raffi Gross to score, tying the game at 1-1.
Then, shockingly, Texas took the lead in the top of the fourth on a two-out double by Marco Gutierrez, scoring Mack from first and giving it a 2-1 lead. However, much like Texas did in the second, Red Land did the same in its half of the fourth. Jaden Henline brought the game back level at 2-2 with a solo home run, his first of the Little League World Series.
"I was just thinking to get on the fastball and don't miss it," Henline said about his home run. "Coach Tom was saying, 'Don't miss the fastball, and drive it the other way,' and I just crushed it."
The pitchers continued to take center stage after Henline's home run, with both Wagner and Texas starter Ryan Farmer pitching into the sixth inning.
Wagner was sensational in his final outing of the summer, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits, a walk and striking out 11. His final out — a strikeout — came on his 85th pitch of the game, the max a pitcher can throw in a little league contest. Henline relieved Wagner, facing Texas' toughest hitter, Mack, getting him to pop out to Wagner at first to end the sixth. Only needing a few pitches to get the final out of the sixth, Henline recorded his third win of the Little League World Series, two of them coming in relief efforts.
Texas' starting pitcher, Farmer, wound up getting credited for the loss, allowing a leadoff walk to Kolmansberger to begin the bottom of the sixth, before being pulled for Marco Gutierrez. Despite being credited with the loss, Farmer matched Wagner pitch-for-pitch, allowing just two hits in his five-plus innings of work. Unfortunately for him, both of those hits were taken out of the park for home runs.
Friends become foes: Red Land's opponent in Sunday's championship game is also, perhaps, the team's newest group of friends. Red Land and the Japanese team became close over the last 12 days, sharing a bathroom in the International Grove, the player living quarters. When Japan walked-off with a 1-0 win over Mexico in the International title game just before Red Land's game, all of the players from Red Land gave the Japanese team high-fives as it came off the field.
Making history: Red Land will also look to make history on Sunday. No little league team from Pennsylvania has won the Little League World Series since 1960. It could also be the first time that a team from York County and Red Land Little League wins the tournament. Just by winning the U.S. championship, Red Land became the first team from York County and Red Land Little League to accomplish that feat.
Sunday's championship game is set for 3 p.m. at Lamade Stadium. The game will be televised on ABC.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker