SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT — Red Land Little League manager Tom Peifer has shown that he's not afraid to take risks with his pitching staff.
He chose to start Jaden Henline, the team's No. 2 starter in last Friday's tournament opener. It paid off with the team winning 18-0 and set up Cole Wagner, the team's ace, to pitch in Sunday's game against South Carolina. And, once again, Red Land prevailed.
So, on Wednesday, knowing that a win would move Red Land into the United States Championship game on Saturday, Peifer had Henline available to start. However, he elected to go with Adam Cramer, the team's No. 3 starter to pitch against Pearland, Texas and once again, the move paid huge dividends.
Cramer dazzled in his first appearance in the Little League World Series, shutting down Texas in Red Land's 3-0 victory in front of 35,107 fans at Lamade Stadium. The win moves Red Land directly into Saturday's United States Championship Game with a 3-0 record, the first time a team from Pennsylvania has made it to that game since Shippensburg did it in 1990.
"Adam's always done that," Peifer said following the game. "Big games when he was 10 years old. Big games in regionals against Maryland he came out and pitched a great game. We had no doubt that he would get it done for us. He is a big-game pitcher for sure."
Settling into a groove: Staked to an early 1-0 lead on a Henline RBI single in the bottom of the first, that was plenty of offense for Cramer. He struck out at least two Texas hitters in each of the five innings he pitched, including striking out the side in the third, fourth and fifth innings. When Cramer's night ended after the fifth inning,for reaching the max pitch limit of 85, he was in the midst of a string that saw the last 10 Texas outs coming on strikeouts.
After the first inning, it didn't look like Cramer was going to last too long, needing 28 pitches to get through the opening frame. Pitching for the first time since the Mid-Atlantic Regional, he settled down and gave his team a lights-out effort.
"I think after the second inning," Cramer said is when he found his grove. "In the first inning I pitched 28 pitches and then the next inning I pitched 13 and I knew I was in a groove."
Adding insurance: The task was a big one for Cramer, who was squaring off against a Texas side that was throwing its ace, Jarrett Tadlock. In his first start of the Little League World Series, Tadlock threw a one-hit shutout of Oregon in Texas' 1-0 win last Friday.
But, Cramer out-dueled Tadlock, never allowing a Texas runner to get past second base. And, when Wagner extended Red Land's lead to 2-0 with a solo home run in the bottom of the third — his 24th in 19 games this summer — that was more than enough offense for Cramer.
"I knew that one run was enough," Wagner said. "But, just to get an extra run, I knew Adam had it."
Red Land added another run of insurance in the bottom of the fifth to push its lead to 3-0, taking advantage of a wild Texas pitching staff. Red Land scratched across the run by only recording one hit, drawing a couple walks and then bringing the run in when Jake Cubbler got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Henline came in to pitch the sixth and, while he made things interesting by loading the bases with only one out, he worked out of it. He picked up where Cramer left off, striking out the side and picking up the save.
Red Land improved to 19-0 on the summer and guarantees itself two more games before this run will come to a close over the weekend.
Rotation in place: With Henline available to start, Peifer decided to go with Cramer based on watching film of Texas' first game against Oregon. Peifer said that Oregon threw a pitcher similar to Cramer and held Texas to only one run. Now, it sets up Peifer to have both Henline and Wagner — his top two starters — available for the weekend's championship rounds.
Cramer's final line came out to be five innings, no runs, three hits, two walks and 13 strikeouts, a career high for him. He also chipped in at the plate with a double in the third inning.
Offensively for Red Land, Henline had the only multi-hit night, recording two of the team's five hits. Cubbler, Wagner and Henline each drove in a run.
Red Land will now have two more days off before the U.S. Championship Game, but won't know its opponent until Thursday night. It'll play the winner of Thursday night's elimination game between Texas and California. Texas already beat California once in the tournament, on Sunday, 8-4.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker