Players with the Grandview Little League team from Des Moines march in a parade kicking off the 2018 Little League World Series.
Special to the Register, Des Moines Register
In a Little League World Series game filled with spectacular defensive plays, a rare mistake ultimately sent Grandview Little League out of the international youth baseball tournament Monday.
Reggie Sharp’s bases-loaded single in the bottom of the sixth inning completed a comeback from four runs down for a team from Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, and the Great Lakes regional champion eliminated the Des Moines youngsters with a 5-4 victory in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Third baseman Alex Stewart, who began the game as Iowa’s starting pitcher, handled a routine groundball from Michigan’s Oliver Service to lead off the sixth. But Stewart’s throw sailed into the stands for an error, which sent Service to second base.
A bunt single and a walk followed, loading the bases with no outs. On a full-count pitch from Iowa’s Connor Duong, Sharp pinged a line drive between first and second to keep his team alive in the 16-team, double-elimination tournament.
“You have to be calm,” Sharp told ESPN after the victory. “The adrenaline is pumping, but I just tried to stay calm and not do too much.”
The tough ending soured what was looking like a highlight-reel romp for the Midwest regional champions.
Playing as the visiting team for the third straight game, Des Moines scored a run before recording an out. When two more crossed the plate on a passed ball for a 3-0 lead, the Iowans had chased Michigan starter Brennan Hill before he could return to the dugout.
Then to lead off the bottom of the first, right fielder Brayden Shutt had the ESPN announcers ooh-ing and ahh-ing with his twisting, sprawling catch near the warning track.
The advantage could have been much larger if not for an equally impressive play by Michigan in the top of the second. With the bases loaded and two outs, third baseman Jarren Purify dove to his right to snag Stewart’s grounder hugging the baseline. He scampered to his feet and stepped on the bag to keep the game within reach.
Still, Iowa’s advantage had swelled to 4-0 in the third on an RBI single from Shutt, and the prospects of winning a seventh do-or-die game of the postseason looked to be on firm footing in the fourth inning.
Michigan scored a single run in that frame before erupting with three in the fifth to tie the score.
An RBI groundout brought Michigan within 4-2. On the same play, Great Lakes’ Purify slipped while rounding third base, and the Iowans thought they could catch him for the inning’s final out, but a throw from first to third base was wild, allowing Purify to score. The next Michigan batter, winning pitcher Preston Barr, slapped a single to tie the game at 4-all.
“There’s something about the number 4 that gets us pumped up,” Michigan head coach Kurt Barr said on ESPN. “I think we’ll play the lottery tonight.”
Iowa’s gambit for the state’s first Little League title, in the meantime, comes to a close. Stewart was excellent on the mound, striking out seven and allowing just one hit while walking three batters in four innings pitched. Maddox O’Connor was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, and he made a nice play up in the middle in the bottom of the fifth inning to keep the game tied.
About 90 minutes after the game, ESPN cameras showed several of the Iowans scooping up handfuls of dirt from the pitcher’s mound inside Howard J. Lamade Stadium to take back with them to Des Moines. The boys didn’t look cheerful, but no crestfallen faces were apparent, either.
A frustrating end, a fantastic experience. All those memories can find their way into one valuable plastic sack.